Late billionaire understood the Wakatipu’s potential

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The billionaire Wakatipu landlord who died two weeks ago understood Queenstown’s potential more than most, a commercial property agent says. 

“He very much knew what was happening in the town,” Marty Barwood says of the late Rich Lister Irishman Eamon Cleary, who died at 52 after battling cancer. 

“He was phenomenally smart,” Barwood adds. 

Cleary amassed a massive property portfolio across four continents. At the time of his death he owned 11 commercial properties in and around Queenstown and Arrowtown CBDs. 

Barwood remembers showing Cleary round a local arcade he’d bought and discovering he’d never set foot inside it – “which is pretty stunning when you’re paying a huge amount of money for something”. 

Barwood recalls being phoned by Cleary at unusual hours. 

“He wasn’t super-big on sending emails. 

“In one instance, I attached a copy of a contract for a lease for one of his properties and I said, ‘By the way, I’ve got an offer for your arcade for $20 million’,” Barwood recalls. 

“He rang back, probably within five minutes, from Argentina or somewhere, and said, ‘Almost enough, Marty, but not quite enough’.” 

Barwood says Cleary did set some pretty high rental levels – “but then a few other landlords came through and they certainly exceeded what his expectations were”. 

“Even though he was portrayed as being really hard, he did actually do a few decent things as well.” 

Barwood recalls Cleary allowing a Queenstown tenant to walk away from her lease: “A lot of landlords wouldn’t let their tenants just wander away from a lease.” 

Local investor Les Keeper, who bought Queenstown’s Tiki Corner building from Cleary, praises the Irish tycoon’s commercial acumen. 

“He had the eye to pick out what was going to be the future and position himself. 

“One thing he was noted for was not always looking for the next dollar – he had a great old saying, ‘You’ve got to leave a little bit in for the next guy’.” 

Peter Whittaker, who’s leased Arrowtown’s New Orleans Hotel from Cleary for the past year, says: “He’s been a reasonable landlord to us and we’ve got nothing to complain about. 

“The rent’s too bloody high but that’s something we bought into.” 

Queenstowner Joanna Booker, who was Cleary’s local agent, says he was “a really great guy and he’ll be sadly missed”. 

Booker confirms one of Cleary’s sons – he’s survived by wife Catriona and eight children – is running his property portfolio. 

“One of his sons has been taking over the reins for quite a while now.”