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How a larger-than-life Kerry exile helped Muhammad Ali fight in Dublin

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On April 4th, 1972, Harold Conrad arrived in London from New York. Booking into his hotel, he was handed three urgent messages to contact a man he had never met. Some guy by the name of Butty Sugrue sounded real anxious to get in touch.

Curiosity pricked, he picked up the phone and rang the local number attached. Next thing he heard was a thick Irish accent launching into a convoluted tale about how he’d once spent some time with the great Joe Louis and was now in a position to make Conrad a very rich man.

Always intrigued by that possibility, the Brooklyn native took a cab to Shepherd’s Bush where 48-year-old Sugrue and his wife, Joan, ran The Wellington, a sprawling Irish bar. After the introductions, the barrel-chested Sugrue cut to the chase.

“Could you get Muhammad Ali for a fight in Dublin?’

He got this sort of thing all the time. Every city he passed through, some dreamer or schemer fancied bringing the greatest show in sport to town. Conrad could wangle that. After all, he was the tall, moustachioed figure who organised the photo shoot between a young Cassius Clay and the Beatles in Miami.

And nobody worked harder to get the champ back in the ring during the wilderness years after Ali lost his licence for refusing induction into the US Army.

Way more than a mere publicist or promoter, Conrad was a player. He made his bones working public relations in the casinos, moving easily in the demimonde of legendary 40s gangland figures like Meyer Lansky, Frank Costello and Bugsy Siegel.

He wrote a dime novel called The Battle at Apache Pass which sold over a million copies, walked the streets of Manhattan with Damon Runyon, and hung out in Havana with Ernest Hemingway during the revolution. A character based on him was played by Humphrey Bogart in his good pal Budd Schulberg’s The Harder They Fall.

None of that could quite have prepared him for sitting across the table from a fast-talking Kerry exile variously described as a force of nature, a pocket battleship, and, during his stint with Duffy’s Circus, Ireland’s Strongest Man. That’s how they billed him on the posters. Most evenings, he entered the Big Top to the sound of his colleague Michael Doyle fingering the accordion, the audience gasping the instant they realised the musician was perched atop a chair which Sugrue held between his teeth while walking along.

Sure, Conrad might have been able to brag about tooling around Naples with Lucky Luciano after the US government deported the mobster or arranging the famous literary summit between the poetess Marianne Moore and Ali, but Sugrue had boasts of his own too.

The strongest publican in captivity, as he sometimes styled himself, once wrestled a mountain goat and Jack Doyle (a friend who he financially supported) at Puck Fair in his native Killorglin, hauled a double-decker bus across O’Connell Bridge with his ever-resilient gnashers, and appeared on the same bill as David Bowie at the Royal Albert Hall.

In common

By comparison with Conrad’s New York sophisticate persona, the 5ft 6in Sugrue was rural, uneducated, a classic graduate of the university of life whose only real tool was an uncanny ability to wring a few quid from the least promising circumstance.

Yet the pair had much in common too, each adept at turning any situation to their advantage, capable of seeing and seizing an opportunity before others even recognised the chance was there. And when it came to knowing how to generate headlines, well, they both definitely knew a thing or two about that.

For all his background in strength-based gimmickry and far-fetched promotions (burying a barman alive in a coffin for 61 days!), Sugrue was much more shrewd businessman than country bumpkin and carnival barker. Even though it sometimes suited him to pretend differently.

He had obviously done his due diligence, discovered Conrad was coming to London and knew he was somebody who could actually deliver Ali to Ireland. During their initial chat in the pub, his visitor spun him a standard line about anything being possible once the money was right, and the Kerryman, in innocence or mischief, stuck out his hand.

“We got a deal, let’s shake.”

Not so fast. Tired of wasting time on chancers with neither the will nor the wealth to finance an Ali fight, Conrad told him there’d be no handshake until he could prove he had the cash. Sugrue didn’t blink.

“No problem at all, not at all. How much will it take?”

“Three hundred thousand dollars,” replied Conrad, knowing full well Ali was averaging in the region of $250,000 a fight just then.

“That’s nothing at all,” Sugrue said. “Come with me.”

They walked to a nearby branch of the Williams & Glyn Bank where, according to Conrad’s recollection of events, the following dialogue took place inside the office of a Mr Moriarty.

“Would you tell this man I’m good for $300,000,” asked Sugrue of the bank official.

“Yes, Butty Sugrue is good for $300,000,” replied Moriarty. “This bank stands behind him.”

Within three days, it was announced that Ali would fight in Ireland in July. The moment most Irish journalists saw Sugrue was involved they dismissed the idea as ludicrous. Fourteen weeks later, he climbed through the ropes in Croke Park and Dublin earned its footnote on the most famous resume in sport.

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Bloom secures planning for London ultra-urban warehouse developments (GB)

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Bloom has secured planning consent for two developments in central London. The developments are located in Hackney and Brixton and are the first to be carried out by Bloom for its €290.4m (£250m) ultra-urban warehouse joint venture with Angelo Gordon to acquire and develop sites in central London. In Hackney, on a site by the A12 next to 331 Wick Road, Bloom will develop two units, totaling 14,045ft², designed by Michael Sparks Associates. Construction will start next month, with completion expected in April 2023. In Brixton, at 146-156 Brixton Hill and Units 5 & 6 Waterworks Road, Bloom will develop five units, totaling 35,360ft², designed by Chetwoods. Construction will start in September, with completion expected in August 2023.

 

Both developments will be targeting a BREEAM sustainability rating of ‘Excellent’ and an EPC rating of ‘A+’ in accord with Bloom’s core sustainability objective to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through construction and operational efficiency. The schemes will include extensive urban greening through the implementation of green walls, green roofs, increased landscaping, bird boxes, and insect hotels to significantly improve the biodiversity; renewable energy in the form of solar photovoltaic panels on the roofs; and lorry, car, and cycle EV charging points to encourage sustainable and active modes of transport as well as enhanced power capacity to accommodate future EV transport technologies.

 

Tom Davies, co-founder of Bloom, said: “Our first two planning consents represent an important milestone for the Bloom team, which is working hard to deliver high-quality and design-led industrial and logistics schemes in supply-constrained inner London sub-markets”.

 

Sam McGirr, co-founder of Bloom, said: “These planning consents for well-located sites give us the opportunity to meet the high demand for convenience and speed from businesses, such as F&B delivery, post and parcel, e-mobility, self-storage and urban logistics and consumers in the local communities”.

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Could equity release be used to help more younger homebuyers?

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Younger first-time buyers could be given more financial help from the Bank of Grandma and Grandad, through the use of improved equity release products, a new report suggests.

The document written by Tom McPhail, of consultancy The Lang Cat, claimed that younger buyers are missing out because older members of their family are unable to satisfactorily tap into their property wealth.

Mr McPhail said: ‘Releasing some of the equity in a property means older homeowners can choose when and how they share their wealth with younger generations.

‘An equity release by grandparents of say £20,000 now, could be transformational for a 20 something struggling to raise a deposit and get on the housing ladder but would make only a very modest dent to the value of the grandparent’s house.’

Releasing some of the equity in a property means older homeowners can choose when and how they share their wealth with younger generations, says new report

Releasing some of the equity in a property means older homeowners can choose when and how they share their wealth with younger generations, says new report

The report acknowledged that equity release has endured a poor reputation in the past after customers suffered ‘severe’ financial knocks.

The sector has been criticised for encouraging people to take on debt, particularly later on in life.

There has also been other concerns about equity release, such as customers falling into negative equity where the value of a property is less than the loan taken out against it when house prices fall.

The report suggested that while the equity release sector has since begun to put ‘its house in order’, it is ‘still not perfect’ and some regulatory safeguards need to be strengthened.

It called for several issues to be looked at, including early redemption charges on equity release products.

It said that most providers apply a simple sliding scale of charges, for example 10 per cent in year on to 1 per cent in year 10.

However, it claimed that some providers apply an early redemption charge based on prevailing gilt rates at that time, putting customers at an ‘unfair disadvantage’.

This is because the fees are not transparent as there is no way a customer can know in advance whether they’d be liable for a charge and if so, how much. 

In the past, customers have also fallen foul of the small print on their equity release loans when it comes to early-redemption penalties – such as couples who must pay an exit fee unless both of them need to go into care.

The report also raised questions about interest rates on equity release products. It said providers should be consistent with their lending criteria and not move the goalposts after customers have taken out a loan, as this can make it harder for them to access a top-up loan in the future, potentially forcing them to remortgage. 

Equity release products could help people access their property wealth to help younger members of their family onto the property ladder

Equity release products could help people access their property wealth to help younger members of their family onto the property ladder

The report argued that equity release products could help people access their property wealth to help younger members of their family onto the property ladder.

Mr McPhail added: ‘Raising a deposit has become an increasingly significant barrier to getting on the housing ladder, with increasing numbers of first-time buyers having to rely on financial help from older generations.

‘Releasing some of the equity in a property allows older homeowners to choose when and how they share their wealth with the younger generation.

‘This more targeted approach gives them greater control to use their assets to the maximum benefit at the point of need.’

Raising a deposit is a barrier to getting on the housing ladder, with increasing numbers of first-time buyers having to rely on financial help from older generations, says the report's author Tom McPhail

Raising a deposit is a barrier to getting on the housing ladder, with increasing numbers of first-time buyers having to rely on financial help from older generations, says the report’s author Tom McPhail

Equity release: How it works and advice

To help readers considering equity release, This is Money has partnered with Age Partnership+, independent advisers who specialise in retirement mortgages and equity release. 

Age Partnership+ compares deals across the whole of the market and their advisers can help you work out whether equity release is right for you – or whether there are better options, such as downsizing. 

Age Partnership+ advisers can also see if those with existing equity release deals can save money by switching. 

You can compare equity release rates and work out how much you could potentially borrow with This is Money’s new calculator powered by broker Age Partnership+.* 

 * Partner link

Jonathan Harris, of mortgage broker Forensic Property Finance, said: ‘Equity release has historically been viewed as a ‘murky’, high-risk sector, fuelled by minimal regulation, poorly-qualified advisers, only a handful of lenders and extortionately high interest rates.

‘Fast forward to today and we see a dramatically transformed sector, benefiting from strict regulation, highly-qualified advisers, multiple lenders and access to very competitive interest rates. 

‘Not surprisingly, equity release is now a viable and growing market for older borrowers looking to utilise the gains seen on property prices to bolster lifestyles, as well as pass on wealth to children when they need it.

‘Those considering equity release should make sure they understand the implications and involve family in any decision-making. It is always important to seek advice from suitably-qualified advisers.’

It comes as a separate report by Legal & General suggested that one in every £90 spent by retired Britons is funded by equity release.

It said that equity release funded an estimated £3billion in retirement spending last year, although it didn’t mentioned the money going to younger generations towards buying a property.

Instead, the report’s survey of 2,000 homeowners found that those with equity release have most frequently used the product to finance home improvements, at 26 per cent.

It said equity release is also being used to support costs such as medical expenses at 17 per cent, maintaining living standards in retirement at 16 per cent, and paying off personal debt at 16 per cent, for example paying off interest-only mortgages. 

It suggested that equity release is likely to play an increasingly important role in financing care-related expenses, with 19 per cent of prospective homeowners citing it as a consideration.

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Allianz Real Estate buys prime office building in Rome (IT)

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Allianz Real Estate, advised by Dils, has acquired an office property in the centre of Rome. The transaction, worth circa €175m, is one of the most important to have been carried out on the real estate market in Rome in recent years.

 

The building, consisting of eleven storeys, comprising nine above-ground and two underground, has a gross lettable area of circa 22,000m² and has undergone a major refurbishment, offering the highest environmental sustainability and energy efficiency standards (LEED Gold Certification). The strategic location, between the CBD and Termini Station, is enjoying great success, especially among corporate occupiers. 

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