Wolverhampton's iconic Beatties put up for sale for £3 million
Beatties has gone up for sale – with just £3 million wanted for the landmark Wolverhampton building that now faces fresh uncertainty.
The owners want to get Beatties off their hands and are willing to cut their losses and accept less than a tenth of what they paid for it a decade ago.
The move comes less than a year after Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct saved House of Fraser, based in Beatties, with a £90 million deal. Yesterday Sports Direct's annual results revealed that House of Fraser may be in terminal decline, with more stores needing to close.
Beatties' low asking price for such a huge building is expected to attract potential buyers and property agents say there has already been strong interest in the site.
Council interest in safeguarding Beatties site
It is understood Wolverhampton Council is among parties that have an interest in buying the building.
Council bosses could swoop to try and ensure Beatties does not fall into the hands of developers, it has emerged.
Council chiefs are anxious the low asking price may attract a developer or another buyer who could then decide to sit on the property and wait to see if market conditions improve and its value increase, and do not want an empty Beatties falling to ruins in such a prime city centre location.
The potential sale will once again stoke fears for the Beatties name in the city where it has been a fixture for more than 140 years.
The sale description by agents Allsop by no means provides certainty over the future, saying there are “numerous asset management opportunities including re-negotiating the tenancy with Sports Direct/House of Fraser or repositioning the asset through change of use”.
Beatties has been owned by a Danish consortium since it agreed a £47m deal in 2006.
House of Fraser bought Beatties for £69.4 million a year earlier, showing how its value has plummeted.
As part of the deal to save Beatties, Sports Direct secured an agreement to pay a nominal £1 in rent, which may have contributed to the decision of the Danes to sell up.
Sports Direct 'shambles'
Sports Direct was branded a "total shambles" on Friday as it delayed publishing its results for the second time in as many weeks and also revealed it is being pursued by authorities in Belgium over a 674 million euro (£605 million) tax bill.
The FTSE 250 business had been due to release its full-year results on Friday at 7am but did not publish them until 5.19pm – nearly an hour after the stock market closed.
Problems at House of Fraser are so bad, Sports Direct added it would give no financial guidance for this year and would have thought again at purchasing the department store a year ago.
At a meeting of investors and press in London, Mr Ashley said it would be a “bumpy ride” for House of Fraser in the short term, and compared the business to a broken-down car, with some stores still loss-making despite paying no rent.
He added that more stores may need to close their doors as “the problems are nothing short of terminal in nature”.
He also refused to rule out further acquisitions, but admitted: “I don’t know which ones are the winners, I never have.”
Reacting to the Beatties news, Wolverhampton North East MP Emma Reynolds said: “It is extremely disappointing and worrying news for everyone employed at Beatties and for the city.
“We don’t want to lose our flagship store which has such a rich history and association with Wolverhampton.”
Wolverhampton South West MP Pat McFadden added: “Mike Ashley’s takeover and announcement the store would have a future gave us fresh hope.
"I hope this sale doesn’t throw the future of the store into question once again.”
WATCH how staff cheered news Beatties was saved last October
It could deliver a fresh blow for Wolverhampton’s high street with Debenhams still on course to leave the city, despite ongoing talks with bosses to try and convince them to stay.
If the council was to take it over, it could then potentially be used to support start-up businesses and the arts, it is understood.
A senior council source has confirmed the authority would consider tabling an offer for Beatties.
Wendy Thompson, the council’s opposition leader, said she would support such a move if the alternative was the building standing empty.
She said: “I agree with that. We do not want to see an empty shell of a building in a main street. That would be unacceptable.”
Sports Direct has not responded to requests for comment.