UPWARDS of five contenders are vying to buy the former Debenhams flagship store in Cork City centre, with the preferred bidder due for selection before the weekend.
Whether the interest is from owner/occupiers or developers is not clear but names that have been suggested in connection with a shortlist of bidders include the Fraser Group, who bought the across-street Eason premises in 2019, and Irish Life, who own several properties on St Patrick Street.
Other potential interested parties include local developers with a track record in Cork City, such as John Cleary Developments (JCD, behind the redevelopment of The Capital cinema), O’Callaghan Properties (OCP, developers of Merchants Quay) and the O’Flynn Group, who have worked with fast-fashion retailer Penneys to consolidate ownership of an entire block on the main street.
Clarendon Properties, who own the adjoining Merchants Quay shopping mall, may see it as an opportunity for a natural extension, although it’s understood they consider the €20m price tag to be too high.
Bank of Ireland is due to select the preferred bidder on Friday following a process involving receivers Grant Thornton, who appointed estate agents Cushman & Wakefield to oversee the sale. The iconic 151,000 sq ft property, once home to Roches Stores, was put on the market in August with a guide price of €20m.
Cushman & Wakefield are also handling the sale of the former Debenhams store on Dublin’s Henry Street, which has a guide price of €50m.
Interest in both properties is understood to be substantial and the bidding process highly competitive.
Should the Fraser Group materialise as the preferred bidder, it will add considerably to their growing Cork portfolio. In addition to owning the former 22,000 sq ft Eason property at 113-115 St Patrick Street, they also own the former Debenham’s premises at Mahon Point Shopping Centre, where they have filled the upper mall section with a Sports Direct store (Sports Direct is part of the Fraser Group), with plans well advanced to install a House of Fraser store in the lower mall. An upmarket Flannels fashion store (also part of the Fraser Group) is planned for 113-115 St Patrick Street, due to open by Easter next year.
A number of other retailers are also set to open shortly on St Patrick’s Street, including outdoor clothing specialists North Face and UK footwear brand Dune, while moves are afoot to fill long-vacant premises like Quills and Dorothy Perkins/Evans. However Debenhams, on a 1.32 acre site, is by far the most high-profile vacancy on main street, in a property which operated as a department store for the bones of a century. It closed in April 2020 with the loss of hundreds of jobs when Debenhams Ireland went into liquidation.
Among the suggestions put forward for its future use include retaining retail at the front section of the building, and possibly an entertainment and food & beverage area upstairs, while using the rear for accommodation. A concept proposal drawn up by an architect for a mixed-use scheme includes a proposal for a 220-room hotel and 47 residential units along Maylor Street.
There may be options too for an Approved Housing Body to come in, or student accommodation operators.
Reinvigorating the flagship building is seen as central to the revitalization of St Patrick Street which was badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Cushman & Wakefield agent Peter O’Flynn has previously said that the importance of the flagship store to the city’s main street “could not be underestimated.” Re-opening the front section for retail would have a dual benefit for shoppers as it would also re-establish the pedestrian link with Merchants Quay.