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LONDON-Despite jitters about the serviced office sector following the profit warning from Regus, Ashquay is transforming itself into a serviced office operator by selling off its existing property portfolio and buying Stonemartin Corporate Centres.

To finance the deal, it is effectively forming a consortium of other property companies which will take a stake in the new venture. Hammerson is Paying £4 million ($5.64 million) for a 14% stake and Warner Estates, which had an existing shareholding in Ashquay, is paying an additional £0.8 million ($1.1 million) to take a 10.6% stake.

Stonemartin will operate a chain of high quality serviced offices across the UK operating under the Institute of Directors’ brand name to be known as IoD Corporate Centres. Each centre is owned by a separate limited partnership, with Stonemartin taking responsibility for day-to-day operations in return for a proportion of the revenue.

For example, Stonemartin is now fitting out an IoD-branded centre at Peter House in Manchester. Peter House was bought from Hammerson in 2000 by a limited partnership comprising Britel and Norwich Union. Another centre in Bristol is already open.

Hammerson’s Chief Executive John Richards explained his decision to invest in what coud be seen as a volatile form of property: ‘This is an opportunity for Hammerson to participate in a focused way in the serviced office sector. The association with the Institute of Directors gives Stonemartin a strong brand name and access to the IoD’s membership. The limited partnership structure is intended to protect Stonemartin from the commercial risk of owning or leasing buildings.’

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