PARIS — Maurizio Borletti is back on the retail scene, but this time, he is targeting travelers.
The Italian entrepreneur’s Borletti Group is part of a consortium that on Wednesday completed the acquisition of Grandi Stazioni Retail from Italian state railway company Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane and private investment vehicle Eurostazioni.
Together with French private equity firm Antin Infrastructure Partners and real estate fund manager Icamap, Borletti placed a winning bid of 953 million euros, or $1.08 billion at current exchange, including net financial position, FS Group said. Antin is the largest partner in the consortium.
The group beat out Lone Star, Deutsche Asset Management and a rival consortium made up of Altarea, ABP and Predica. The GSR concession, valid until 2040, provides exclusive rights to the commercial leasing and advertising spaces of the 14 largest railway stations in Italy, in addition to two in the Czech Republic.
The board of directors has appointed Borletti as chairman of GSR, the consortium said in a statement on Wednesday.
“I believe that travel retail has a good future,” Borletti told WWD. An estimated 790 million visitors use these key Italian railway stations every year.
He noted that while rail users typically transit through stations faster than plane passengers do through airports, a good retail offer can entice them to linger, as in the case at the Saint-Lazare station in Paris since its renovation. Train stations offer several other benefits, in addition to higher foot traffic, he said.
“In railway stations, you have the advantage of being either in the city center or in any case in very urbanized areas, so you have a local customer base which you can rely on as well. Because of their function as railway stations, these are generally the most well-connected areas in the town,” Borletti said.
“So the potential for retail is very big and I believe that with the Internet developing, retail is changing and so traditional shops in low-traffic areas will have a harder time, and places like railway stations or very densely trafficked high streets or some tourist areas will continue to function,” he explained.
Borletti Group was among the investors that acquired Italian department store chain La Rinascente in 2005 and French department store chain Printemps in 2006.
La Rinascente was sold to Thai group Central Retail Corporation in 2011, and Printemps in 2013 to Divine Investments SA, a Luxembourg-based investment fund backed by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the former emir of Qatar.
Borletti also made failed bids to acquire German department store group Karstadt and French fashion label Christian Lacroix. The sale process of Grandi Stazioni Retail began last November and initially drew 17 expressions of interest.
“Grandi Stazioni Retail is a single entity in the world stage, for both experiences in management of the largest Italian railway stations and potential commercial expansion in the retail market. We will work with the new owner to enhance even more such an asset with great potential,” said Renato Mazzoncini, chief executive officer of FS.