Burford in pounds 100m hotels venture

Burford confirmed itself as one of the property sector's most innovative and entrepreneurial businesses yesterday, forging a pounds 100m link with one of America's most successful hoteliers to recreate New York's Royalton and Paramount hotels in London and around Europe.

The deal looks certain to be the prelude to another Burford demerger to follow the recent spin-offs of three businesses including the Trocadero leisure complex in London's Piccadilly Circus.

Burford has been in negotiations since before Christmas with Ian Schrager about recreating his successful "lifestyle" hotels for wealthy baby-boomers in Europe. He made his name in the 1970s with Studio 54, the New York nightclub whose regulars included Bianca Jagger and Andy Warhol before opening a string of chic hotels across America. Mr Schrager continues to rub shoulders with the rich and fashionable and boasts Madonna as a partner in his Miami hotel, the Delano. He will be managing director of the joint venture and will be responsible for the development and operation of the hotels.

Nick Leslau, Burford's chief executive, said yesterday: "There is little doubt that Ian has created a business which is the envy of the hotel world. We are extremely excited about the prospect of working with him to create an exciting range of highly individual hotels in London and Europe."

Burford, the UK's ninth-largest property company, has bought three office buildings in London with a view to getting permission to change their use to hotels and acquired an option on a fourth near London's Covent Garden last year.

The move into hotels is the latest diversification for Burford, which has used a blue-chip property portfolio bought from the wreckage of the early 1990s recession as a springboard for a raft of related leisure businesses.

It has teamed up with Sega of Japan to exploit the heavy flow of tourist traffic through its Trocadero centre and even acquired the rights to favourite children's character Noddy.

Hotels are enjoying a prolonged boom, especially in the capital, where rising demand has combined with an almost total absence of new hotel building since the recession to provide perfect conditions for the industry.

The proposed deal also highlights Burford's technique of spinning off its leisure businesses to benefit from the higher ratings attached to these operations than its core property activities while retaining a stake in the companies' fortunes.

Burford also demerged Grantchester, its retail warehouse operation, and Columbus, a publishing business. There are plans afoot to subdivide the Trocadero even further by hiving off the licensing business surrounding the Enid Blyton portfolio.

It has been a successful formula, with Mr Leslau and his partner, Nigel Wray, emerging as the property sector's favourite entrepreneurs. Burford's shares have risen almost tenfold in the past four years.

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