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17 September 2010

Major bowling deal proves a winner: AMF Bowling

A complex multi-million pound deal has just seen AMF Bowling become the largest operator of ten-pin bowling centres in the UK. Here Michael Larcombe, partner in the commercial property practice group, who led the deal for B P Collins, explains how it worked.

Hertfordshire-based AMF Bowling struck a winner when it moved to buy the Hollywood Bowl bowling chain from pub and restaurant group Mitchells & Butlers (M&B).

As well as paying £27 million for the 24 Hollywood Bowl sites, which it will run alongside its existing 32 UK bowling centres, AMF Bowling underwent a substantial restructuring and refinancing programme, selling nine of its existing bowling centres to a sale and leaseback purchaser for around £15.5m. A private equity investor has also taken a substantial minority stake in the AMF Group to facilitate the restructuring and acquisitions.

It was the largest commercial property deal to date handled by B P Collins and also involved eight teams of solicitors from various national, City and Scottish law firms, including "magic circle" giant Slaughter and May, who undertook the corporate, restructuring, refinancing and tax aspects of the transactions for AMF.

The deal was all the more significant because it's less than a year since B P Collins acquired AMF as a client, although Michael Larcombe had previously worked with Richard Cook, now chief executive officer of the newly-expanded business.

"Richard was originally referred to me by another client, which shows the value of personal relationships," said Michael. "I helped him with some advice for AMF Bowling last November and then in January we were asked to become involved in the sale and leaseback of nine of their sites, eight in England and one in Scotland.

"While the portfolio was in the market, M&B announced it wanted to sell its Hollywood Bowl business and the sale and leaseback project became a way for AMF to fund the new acquisition.

"It was very complex and demanding work, and more than anything, showed that we are capable of undertaking serious commercial property projects for major players such as AMF. In particular, working alongside Slaughter and May was a pleasure - their commitment and professionalism is undoubted.

"We were especially pleased because this deal enabled us to demonstrate our ability to carry out real estate work to a very high professional standard, maintaining a focus on delivering customer service and value. It shows that firms don't have to go to big City lawyers and pay big City prices to have a good job done."

At B P Collins, a team of seven solicitors worked on the acquisition, which also included the need to undertake property due diligence on the whole of AMF's current portfolio, comprising a further 18 bowling centres.

Applauding the team's work, Richard Cook commented: "Having worked with Michael on a number of smaller transactions, I had every confidence in his ability to deliver on a larger scale.

"Of the various workstreams, the sale and leaseback was by far the most complex, yet B P Collins successfully overcame the various challenges as well as delivering a full due diligence package for 42 leasehold sites. Michael and his team worked tirelessly throughout and we are very grateful for both their advice and their commitment to getting this deal over the line."

In recent years M&B has been selling its non-core businesses to focus on its pub brands, which include Harvester, Toby Carvery and Vintage Inns.

Our experienced commercial property team can advise on all property law matters and can be contacted on 01753 279087, complete the online enquiry form or email comproperty@bpcollins.co.uk.

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