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Manston airport: Full interview with RiverOak boss Stephen DeNardo who wants to buy the site from owner Ann Gloag

By Paul Francis

How did RiverOak become involved in the bid and what is its role?

“We have been active in searching for opportunistic transactions in both the UK and Ireland. We have an extensive network of contacts in both and one of our contacts made us aware of the Manston situation.”

How did you team up with Annax Aviation, whose chief executive Tony Freudmann has become spokesman for your bid?

RiverOak Investment Corp LLC head Stephen DeNardo
RiverOak Investment Corp LLC head Stephen DeNardo

“Our contacts put us in direct discussion with Tony Freudmann who we knew had both operational experience at the airport and had made an attempt to purchase the airport.”

Does RiverOak have any previous experience in aviation and airports? If so, what has it been?

“One of my RiverOak partners was instrumental in the financing and restructuring of a significant airport in Texas. I personally have experience with the shutdown of a military air base and the restructuring of that base into alternative aviation uses.”

Manston has struggled in the past to evolve as a commercially successful operation, particularly in respect of passenger flights. What makes RiverOak believe that it can be successful now?

“We believe that we have the resources, contacts and interest at very high levels to re-create the airport into a logistics center. This would not only preserve jobs but expand the job opportunities.”

Would you be aiming to develop passenger flights?

Manston airport before it closed
Manston airport before it closed

“We go into this not ruling it out, but at the same time being aware that the current ownership’s moves have created a flight – pardon the pun – of passenger airlines from the airport.

"I think a serious conversation would need to be had with the union, the community, the local politicians and the airlines themselves whether passenger flights can be resumed at Manston and at what level.”

Are there further meetings planned with Anne Gloag or her representatives?

“I have personally reached out to Mrs Gloag and am awaiting a response.”

Do you consider the initial bid a fair one?

“Considering everything I know and the required carrying costs to give us time to work our business plan, I actually think our offer was generous.”

How would you describe RiverOak’s level of interest in the acquisition?

“I think that we have demonstrated a significant and sincere interest. We have even offered a quick close to the transaction if the due diligence materials can be substantiated.”

Can you say if are you working on refining or developing the bid with a view to making another submission?

“At the moment I am attempting to achieve a dialogue with the seller to understand their view of value and have the opportunity to explain our view and bid.”

Were you surprised the bid you made was rejected?

“I have been in many negotiations in my career, so there isn’t much that surprises me.

"What does surprise me is the lack of negotiation and discussion when so many jobs and an important piece of the community’s economy are at stake – especially when our offer, from my understanding, provides a tidy profit to the seller for such a short hold period.”

Have you personally visited Manston yet or spoken to Mrs Gloag?

“The way we work at RiverOak is that our acquisition team makes the initial site inspection and they have personally met with Mrs Gloag.

"These are senior people in my organization and included my Chief Investment Officer who has been my business partner for 15 years and a colleague for 30 years.

"I will personally visit the property when we have a definitive deal in place. I will also like to meet with the representatives of the union and the fine people of the community who have fought so hard to save the airport.

"I will also want to meet with Sir Roger Gale and Ms Laura Sandys.”

Has RiverOak any current or previous business acquisitions in the UK or Europe?

“Through our various careers , our principals have executed extensive real estate and private equity transactions in the UK and Europe.

"More recently, we bid on a major office building in Dublin but did not win the bid. It is only since November of last year that we have spent significant effort in pursuing assets in the UK and Ireland.

"I will add that RiverOak has completed 43 transactions in the US in the last 15 years with total capitalization of close to $1bn.”

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