A Chinese industrial conglomerate, HNA Holding Group Co., is bidding to acquire the Olympia exhibition centre in west London.
Bloomberg has reported the Chinese company, which bought a stake in Deutsche Bank recently, teamed up with Bugsby Property LLC to approach Olympia owners Capital & Counties (CapCO) to buy its venues unit (which includes Olympia).
CN understands that a separate bid from a group including Yoo Capital Ltd and German institutional investors is also on the table.
Capco confirmed the approach in a brief statement, 7 April, that it was “in advanced discussions concerning the sale of Venues, its exhibition business, comprising Olympia London together with certain related property assets for a price in line with the 31 December 2016 valuation. There is no certainty that the sale will proceed and further announcements will be made as appropriate”.
Chairman of Clarion Events and past president of industry association the AEO, Simon Kimble, reacting to the news, told CN: “Following the closure of Earls Court exhibition halls we would be looking for any new buyer to commit to Olympia’s events and exhibition business, as well as to support all the services this business requires.
“What we don’t want to see would be an isolated venue remaining at Olympia, with unrelated developments proceeding apace all around.
“It would be disastrous for the events industry in the UK if these facilities were lost in London. Any moves affecting one of the nation’s crown venue jewels, should concern us all.”
Kimble added that the history of Yoo Capital, in particular, suggested an unlikely fit with owning an event venue, as the company has been more involved in redevelopment projects.
Asked for a comment on the potential sale of Olympia by CapCo, Andy Slaughter, MP for Hammersmith told CN: “London Olympia is one of the UK and Europe’s premier exhibition spaces and is vital to both the local economy and the UK events and exhibitions industry. I sincerely hope that London Olympia’s next owners will commit to maintaining its role as one of the UK and Europe’s leading venues for events and exhibitions.”
CN understands that the exhibition heritage of the Olympia site is of interest to HNA. Olympia would be considered a perfect venue to show off Chinese products to the UK market.
HNA last month agreed a US$2.21bn deal to buy a marquee Manhattan office building in a deal that further evidences the role of Chinese capital in Western real estate markets, although the company does also have a focus on leisure and tourism, owning a significant stake in Hilton and several airlines.
HNA, parent company of China’s Hainan Airlines, purchased 30 South Colonnade in London’s Canary Wharf in 2015.
CapCo also owns a large property portfolio in London’s Covent Garden and transferred events to new-look Olympia from the old Earls Court exhibition halls when that land was sold for housing development.
CapCo’s events business had generated earnings of £19m last year on a total value of £293m.
Olympia’s key importance for the London and UK events industry has been heightened by the renewed calls for the House of Lords to be decanted into the QEII Centre during impending major refurbishment works on Parliament.