Peel to run hotels in pounds 66m buyout

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The Independent Online
ROBERT PEEL, the former chief executive of Thistle Hotels, returned to familiar haunts yesterday with a deal that gives him management control of a third of his old firm's portfolio. Thistle is selling 30 of its provincial hotels to Lehman Brothers, the investment bank, for pounds 66m.

Mr Peel's new company, Peel Hotels, floated on the Alternative Investment Market in March, will run the hotels under an "incentivised management arrangement", with the option to buy two of them, in Leeds and Newcastle- upon-Tyne.

The deal follows a decision by Thistle several months ago to rationalise its portfolio and concentrate on building up its chain of Thistle branded hotels instead. The properties being sold range from the Mercury Hotel in Fort William to the Astor in Plymouth. Last year, the 30 hotels recorded profits of pounds 8.7m. Their net book value at the end of December was pounds 93m.

Ian Burke, Thistle's chief executive, said: "The sale of 30 hotels, which do not fit within the company's overall strategic plans, will allow us to focus upon the remaining hotels, predominantly four stars operating under the Thistle brand."

Mr Peel parted company with Thistle last year, amid suggestions that its major shareholder, Brierley Investments of New Zealand, was unhappy with the company's financial performance.

In June the Leeds-based group revealed it had received unsolicited approaches about a possible takeover bid. Brierley later indicated it expected a sale. Last month Thistle was rumoured to be close to announcing a pounds 1.5bn deal with Nomura International for its four-star hotels. But talks collapsed when Nomura lowered its offer.

Mr Peel started to build up the company that is now Thistle from quite humble origins two decades ago, based onMount Charlotte Investments, then little more than a collection of seaside hotels.

Lehman has named its new division Grace Hotels. Wilson Lee, Lehman brothers director of European Mortgage and Asset Backed finance, said: "This ... reinforces a strategy of principal investment in the European markets."

Thistle shares closed 0.5p higher at 153p. Peel Hotels jumped 10p to 142.5p.