Saturday 19 August 2017

Johnny Ronan in talks on €150m financing of Dublin's tallest building

Plans for Tara Street will fuel necessary debate on height of city's buildings, writes Ronald Quinlan

An artist’s impression of how the new building in Dublin city centre would look — at 88m it would tower over 59m Liberty Hall
An artist’s impression of how the new building in Dublin city centre would look — at 88m it would tower over 59m Liberty Hall
Ronald Quinlan

Ronald Quinlan

Developer Johnny Ronan is in talks with the Cardinal Capital Group with a view to financing his company RGRE's construction of Dublin's tallest building on a site adjoining Tara Street railway station.

While the Sunday Independent understands that Ronan is covering the substantial costs associated with the planning process for the proposed 88m (290ft) tower from his own resources, the cost of developing the ambitious scheme is expected to hit €150m.

Ronan's relationship with the Cardinal Capital Group is already well established. Last year, the developer secured financial backing for the €300m office development RGRE is delivering at AIB Bank centre in Dublin's Ballsbridge from the WLR Cardinal Mezzanine Fund, the vehicle that Cardinal established with billionaire investor and US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross. The scheme is also being backed by Jefferies Loancore, the commercial real estate financier.

Leaving aside RGRE's plans for Dublin 4, the company is expected to submit its planning application for Tara Street to Dublin City Council and An Bord Pleanala shortly. At a height of 88m (290ft), the proposed tower will include a 110-bedroom hotel, top-floor bar, and a restaurant at ground level upon completion.

With plans also now being progressed for the construction of the 73m (239ft) 'Exo' building at Point Square in Dublin's docklands, the debate relating to the height and density of both commercial and residential developments in the capital's urban core is likely to intensify.

And given how the Government is struggling to resolve a housing crisis that is at its most pronounced in Dublin, the recent projection from Savills Ireland that office space for an additional 100,000 workers will be delivered in the capital by 2021, those calling for increased residential building heights and densities to accommodate people in the city centre may yet prevail.

Ronan has already made his views on the matter known to the Government. In a letter to Housing Minister Simon Coveney sent on November 8 last, the developer warned the treatment being given to strategic development zones (SDZs) in the draft legislation on the Housing Bill would hamper the efforts of local authorities to increase housing supply.

Apart from the implications of this for the Dublin docklands, Ronan said it would have an adverse impact on other SDZs including Clonmagadden in Co Meath, Cherrywood in south Dublin and Hansfield in west Dublin.

Referring to the restrictions on heights and densities in Spencer Dock, where RGRE is involved in the delivery of offices, retail and a hotel, Ronan noted residential heights were limited to between six and seven storeys under planning regulations introduced in 2013.

This is despite the fact that his former company, Treasury Holdings, had built apartment buildings of up to 12 storeys in height prior to that on an adjoining site.

While the RGRE chief acknowledged the height restriction of six to seven storeys at Spencer Dock had come into force within the context of a planning scheme prepared "at a time of deep economic recession and a depressed housing market", he said it was now "completely out of step with prevailing demand and fails to reflect the realities of a growing economy and the pressures of a chronic housing shortage in the city".

Ronan added that the practice of adopting "provincial building heights in such a patently high-rise location represents a critical risk to the success of Dublin's ability to attract FDI and the success of the docklands project".

He added: "Simply put, building low density on the best transportation hub in Dublin - in which the State has a key stake - is not only wasteful, but it is also stupid."

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