£194m takeover of Minerva could end decade of blight

Minerva, the property development company which owns the prestigious Allders building and Nestle’s HQ tower, as well as the urban wasteland at the centre of town known as St George’s Walk, is subject of a multi-million pound takeover bid which could bring an end to almost a decade’s planning blight in Croydon.

An artist’s drawing of Park Place, doomed to remain an architect’s pipe dream

Minerva is laden with around £1 billion-worth of debt, having borrowed heavily to fund the purchase of various properties around the capital. The company was hard-hit by the slump in property values, its stock plummeting from a high of 423p per share in 2007, to just 5p each two years later.

This year, it has been running a “secret auction” to sell itself – and its debt – off to investors.

Yesterday, shares in Minerva soared after they announced a £194 million bid from Delancey and the private New York-based firm Area Property Partners, under a new company to be called Jupiter Properties 2011.

Eighteen months ago Minerva was subject to a hostile takeover bid at 50p per share; today, Minerva shares were trading on the stock exchange at 115p.

Existing Minerva shareholders have been critical of the company’s board of directors for not having done more to drive on its developments in Croydon.

All Minerva’s plans for Croydon have turned to dust.

Their £500 million scheme for Park Place, on St George’s Walk, saw established businesses forced out after a 2005 council compulsory purchase order. Other nearby businesses, like the much-loved Turtle’s, which had been a fixture in Croydon town centre since 1894, also decided to shut up shop over the planning uncertainty.

The redevelopment was due to have been finished by early 2011.

But when Minerva’s partnership deal with Lend Lease collapsed and efforts to bring John Lewis to the town centre failed,  Minerva had to admit defeat on its prestige project.

Planning permission for the 900,000 sq ft development – which included flats, restaurants and shops – lapsed in May 2009. Angry shopkeepers took Croydon Council to the Lands Tribunal for mishandling the CPO, demanding hundreds of thousands in compensation for the market value for their businesses and the cost of relocating.

It is now two years since Mike Fisher, the leader of the ruling Tory group on Croydon Council, said, “For the good of the town we cannot afford any further delay.”

As the company’s own aerial picture of the area shows, the new owners of Minerva will take possession more than 6 acres of central Croydon, including several significant sites, including the Grade II listed Segas Building, the Nestle Building, and the wretched 1960s office block opposite the Town Hall.

The council’s strategic Mid Croydon plan will depend heavily on the new Minerva owners, who may also revisit earlier schemes to “remodel” Allders from being a standalone department store, one of the biggest in London, “to create a number of valuable retail units”.

A call on a Friday afternoon before the bank holiday to Croydon Council’s press office for a reaction to the Minerva news was answered by Fred Hall, who declared that he was the only person in the office and that he would get back to us.

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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