Saturday 25 February 2017

Dublin's Liberties seeing growth across the board

Donal Buckley

The old Frawley's site at 30 & 32-36 Thomas Street, Dublin 8 which was bought this year by Hattington Capital for a student accommodation project
The old Frawley's site at 30 & 32-36 Thomas Street, Dublin 8 which was bought this year by Hattington Capital for a student accommodation project

Development activity in the Liberties area of Dublin looks set to gather pace following recent site acquisitions and planning applications in this historic area of the capital. It will also be helped by the activities of the Liberties Business Forum which aims to entice more businesses to the area and work with them in lobbying for on-going regeneration.

Another factor could prove to be the tax incentives offered under the recently announced Living City Initiative which encourage owners to refurbish or in some commercial cases to re-develop old properties.

Dublin City Council has also been active in providing development sites. For instance it recently sold a site near the Coombe Maternity Hospital after using a compulsory purchase order to clean up legal title issues.

It is also working with local property owners to enhance the streetscapes especially along Thomas and James streets and it established The Liberties Dublin, a business area improvement initiative.

Those two streets along with those close to Christchurch and Clanbrassil St have the development advantage of also being close to Temple Bar, as well as The Courts legal quarter and the city centre with its range of third level and other colleges so they have been targeted by student accommodation providers for new student housing projects.

The first of these student projects will come on stream in September next year when UK student accommodation specialist Knightsbridge opens its €40 million project at The Digital Hub, off Thomas St.

In addition Hattington Student Housing Limited, the student accommodation branch of Irish firm Hattington Property Management has applied for planning for a 247 unit student accommodation premises along with retail accommodation at 30 and 32-36 Thomas Street. Hattington bought the site earlier this year in a deal brokered by DTZ SherryFitzGerald who had been asking €2.5m.

Another Irish firm, the Creedon Group has teamed up with Global Student Accommodation to develop a complex in the Newmarket and Blackpitts area, or 'Cathedral Corner' as it is known locally including a block of 96 apartments with accommodation for up to 400 students along with a nursing home to cater for up to 114 patients, along with offices, a restaurant and other facilities.

This neighbourhood recently saw the new launch of the new Teeling Distillery which not alone distils whiskey but also has added yet another new tourist attraction in the form of a visitor centre.

Other visitor attractions underway include Pearse Lyons' redevelopment of St James Church, as yet another visitor centre and whiskey distillery. Meanwhile on High St, close to Christchurch, the Galway Bay Brewery has revamped the former Ryans pub and opened Beer Market, a pub dedicated solely to craft beer.

Nearby on Francis St some initial works are expected this year on the long awaited rejuvenation of the Iveagh Market which publican/hotelier Martin Keane envisages as a new food and crafts market with a 90-bedroom hotel adjoining.

When one considers the magnetic effect of the nearby Guinness Hopstore and visitor centre as well as the older whiskey visitor centre just across the river in Smithfield, the area looks set to provide fresh competition for the watering holes of nearby Temple Bar.

Stephen Coyne of The Liberties Dublin business area improvement initiative says the increased property activity in the area has been reflected in a modest increase in both commercial and residential planning applications in the last year although they have been mainly small in scale in line with the character of the area.

"Many of the larger sites have had their earlier planning permissions extended," he adds.

Owners of old properties could benefit from recently announced the tax incentives available under the Living City Initiative as the Liberties is one of the few areas of the city, and indeed the country, where these tax incentives are available.

However the scheme restricts the incentives to projects which involve re-developments or refurbishments of buildings of less than 210 sq m which rules out most developers who prefer larger sites in order to make the development worthwhile. Furthermore most owner occupiers will find it difficult to raise funds from banks for major refurbishments so this would confine the scheme mostly to those with their own cash resources.

Development may also prove slower in those areas of the Liberties farther away from the city centre, such as Cork Street and Dolphins Barn.

"The (urban brownfield development) market is only interested in large scale clearances and construction of high density apartments in five to eight storey buildings. However in all except the most sought after areas, the market is not ready yet for such apartments as values would need to increase substantially to make them viable," said Lisney's Ross Shorten .

Nevertheless even in those areas sites are being bought in recent times, admittedly at relatively keen prices and possibly with long view term view.

Three sites have recently been sold or sale agreed near the Coombe Hospital and two of those are believed to have sold in the range of €780,000 to €3m per acre.

Closer to the heart of the action the IAWS offices and adjoining half acre site on Thomas St sold earlier this year for a reported €5.2m, well over the €3.5m which was quoted for it.

Meanwhile Digital Hub Development Agency (DHDA) and the city council is in the process of seeking development partners to come up with proposals for mixed use developments on two sites, Vathouse 7 and adjoining properties one of 0.23 hectares and the other of 0.85 hectares. Both are located on the south side of Thomas Street, and one extends from 7-19 Thomas Street to Rainsford Street and includes properties along Crane Street. The other site extends from 20 to 27 Thomas Street.

A spokesperson said it expects that the substantial mixed use scheme will incorporate office accommodation to cater for the growth of The Digital Hub's enterprise cluster.

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