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Wealthy Irish families buy up Grafton Street property from investment funds

Limerick billionaire JP McManus, founder of Panda waste collection Eamon Waters and the Brennan family among owners

Rich Irish families are buying buildings on Grafton Street, Dublin, often for cash, as big investment funds seek to reduce the amount of retail property in their portfolios.

Limerick billionaire JP McManus, founder of Panda waste collection business Eamon Waters, the Brennan family, owners of the famous bread brand, the McConn family from Roscommon, who own the Budget and Avis franchise in Ireland, and Brian McKiernan, a former head of the Davy financial services group, are among those who now own buildings on the famous street.

Meanwhile, pension and other types of investment funds have been reducing their presence on the street, though Irish Life remains the single largest owner of property on what is Ireland’s most sought-after retail location.

The life assurance and pensions group owns 21 of the 119 buildings on the street, according to an investigation by The Irish Times into who owns Grafton Street.

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Other owners include: the Keaveney family, owners of the Peter Mark hair salon chain; the O’Leary family, owners of the Burger King franchise in the Republic; Michael Enoch (80), a long-time Dublin property investor; members of the Odlum flour-milling family, and members of the family behind the Jameson whiskey brand.

Some of the buildings on the street are owned by families that have been in business on the street for many decades, such as the Barnardo family, who operate Barnardo furriers, the Andrews family, who own the Weir’s watch and jewellery business and the family behind JJ Fox, the tobacconists that operate from number 119 on the corner with College Green.

As the big investment funds reduce the amount of retail property they have in their investment portfolios they are leaving the market open to private buyers, according to Eoin Feeney, head of retail with Colliers real estate and investment management.

“Some of the funds, and general investors, may have been spooked by the negativity surrounding retail, on two fronts — the internet and Covid — and the misbelief that all shopping was going to migrate online,” said Feeney.

However, the fear that people would not return to shops after the Covid pandemic “turned out to be completely wrong”, he said.

Meanwhile, private investors are buying in a market that traditionally has been dominated by funds. Normally, the big funds would compete to buy any property that came on the market in places like Grafton Street, said Feeney, “but now they are pretty much out of the picture. So the privates have the market to themselves at this moment in time”.

Tailte Éireann (formerly the Land Registry) and company records indicate that many of the properties are being bought without recourse to bank borrowings and without mortgages being registered against them.

Data kept by Colliers show the percentage of the street’s buildings owned by private investors went from 23 per cent in 2017 to 36 per cent last year. The new private investor ownership data disclosed today show this trend continuing.

Foreign private investors do not feature heavily in recent transactions, although one substantial property at the College Green end of the street has been bought by a Chinese retail chain while a second property close to it has been bought by an investment company based in Hong Kong.

Records in the commercial lease registry show six-figure annual rents being paid for the ground floor areas of the smaller buildings, but also that many of the upper floors of the buildings on Grafton Street are not in use or command much lower rents.

For example, a building on the corner of Grafton Street and Suffolk Street occupied on the ground floor by Boylesports, and owned by JP McManus, has two leases dated April 2023 in the registry, one with an annual rent of €220,000 while the second, for a surgery on the upper floors, has an annual rent of just €34,250.

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