Thursday, 7 February 2008

Arnotts move down road as €1bn city plan takes shape

For almost 175 years, Arnotts has enjoyed pride of place as one of Ireland's most iconic department stores.

Now the famous Dublin store is moving for three years while a new premises is built as part of a €1bn transformation of an eight-acre site between Abbey Street and Henry Street.

After cutting up to 400 of its 900-strong workforce in a "largely" voluntary redundancy programme, Arnotts staff will later this year move some departments into a temporary home in the neighbouring Jervis Centre.

When it returns to Henry Street in 2011, it will employ 1,200 staff as part of a 5,000-strong workforce in the newly developed 'Northern Quarter'.

Arnotts will occupy retail space vacated by Debenhams at the Jervis centre.

Some departments may yet continue to operate from Henry Street, in one of a number of options being considered by the store's management.

It is understood that Boyers, the Arnotts-owned department store on North Earl Street, will be unaffected but is also in line for a revamp.

Sources close to the company said yesterday that a green light for the project from An Bord Pleanala was imminent.

A spokesperson for the company said: "Arnotts is currently finalising its plans for the development phase of the Northern Quarter. When the plans are finalised, they will be communicated to staff."


News of the redundancies comes as the the 900 staff at Arnotts gear up for a €60,000 pension windfall early next month. The cash comes following a decision last year by Arnotts trustees to distribute €50m of the surplus in the company's overachieving pension fund to employees.

But the job cuts will come as blow to staff and customers at the store, opened in 1843 by Sir John Arnott and famed for its old-style service and colourful history.

It was said Easter Rising leader Padraig Pearse stopped off to settle his account at Arnotts in 1916 before proceeding to do battle at the GPO.

And in the 1960s, the model Jean Shrimpton caused a near riot when she turned up to the opening of Arnotts' Southside branch wearing her trademark mini-skirt.

In its more recent history, Arnotts, which is chaired by Richard Nesbitt, the great-great-grandson of founder Sir Arnott, changed hands.

Last year, Anglo Irish Bank teamed up with investment company Boundary Capital to make a joint €65m investment in the firm for a 45pc stake. Boundary is headed up by financier Niall McFadden.

The new investment came after long-term investors, the O'Connor family, sold their 24.75pc stake in Arnotts following a high-profile boardroom dispute with Mr Nesbitt.

The row came to a head in May of last year when it emerged that the O'Connors were preparing to offer €200m for the group. Many observers believed at the time that the bid was a ploy to force the Nesbitt family to buy them out.

In the event, the Nesbitts agreed two weeks later to pay over €40m for the O'Connors' stake.

Irish Independent

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