Saturday 10 December 2016

The who's who of Ireland's property developers

What they did in the boom, where they went in the bust - and where they are today

Published 28/08/2016 | 02:30

Patrick McKillen Picture: Johnathan Adam Davies
Patrick McKillen Picture: Johnathan Adam Davies
Bernard McNamara Picture: Courtpix
Paddy Kelly
Michael O'Flynn Picture: Maxwells
Sean Mulryan Picture: Damien Eagers
Luke Comer Picture: Patrick Bolger
John Flynn Picture: Collins
Noel Smyth Picture: Tom Burke
Paddy Shovlin Picture: Mark McCall
Gerry Gannon Picture: Steve Humphreys
Ray Grehan
Joe O'Reilly
Johnny Ronan and Richard Barrett

Having spread his wings and interests outside of Ireland in 1998 to avoid being hit by the bursting of the property bubble he believed was already forming, Belfast-born property investor Paddy McKillen began assembling a vast portfolio of prime residential and commercial properties in the UK, France, Germany and further afield in the US, Argentina and Asia.

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Famously media-averse, McKillen, whose Irish assets include the Jervis Shopping Centre and the College Green premises of US clothing chain Abercrombie & Fitch, blocked efforts by Nama in the Supreme Court in 2011 to take control of his businesses' loans.

A subsequent protracted battle with the billionaire Barclay brothers for control of the famous Claridges, Berkeley and Connaught hotels saw its final resolution with both the Barclays and McKillen selling their respective stakes to the Qatari-owned Constellation Hotels group. McKillen continues to manage the redevelopment of the London hotels, while his son, Paddy Jr, builds a property empire in his own right in Dublin.

Luke Comer

The Galway-born Comer and his brother, Brian, left Ireland as teenagers for London in 1984. Plasterers by trade, the Comers managed to avoid the white heat of the Celtic Tiger through shrewd and well-timed investment in the UK and Germany. They returned to Ireland with a bang after the bubble burst, snapping up prime assets at bargain-basement prices.

Their most high-profile purchase came in 2013 with the €22m acquisition of the former UCD veterinary college in Ballsbridge. The 2.2-acre site had previously been purchased by Glenkerrin Homes chief Ray Grehan in 2005 for €171.5m - a record-breaking €84m an acre.

The Comers are taking full advantage of the Irish economic recovery with the development on the site of Number One Ballsbridge, a high-end offering of offices and apartments.

Paddy Kelly

With over 50 years of experience in property development and consultancy in Ireland, the UK, Europe and the United States, the Laois-born developer and chief executive of Redquartz delivered numerous of Dublin and Ireland's most successful commercial and residential developments before the crash.

Smithfield, Belfield office park, the Burlington Plaza office complex in Dublin 4 and the four-star Carton House Hotel in Kildare were just some of Kelly's major projects before he ended up in Nama.

Kelly is currently waiting for the commencement of Nama's sale of the €1.5bn par value Project Tolka, where his companies' borrowings are to be sold, along with those of his long-standing business partner John Flynn and the Dublin-based McCormack family, who control the property investment vehicle Alanis. Ever the entrepreneur and optimist, Kelly has continues to look for business opportunities internationally.

Paddy Shovlin

While he began his working life as a restaurateur on Dublin's Moore Street, Shovlin used his initiative to join the ranks of the brash new breed of property developers who were tapping the rich seam of Ireland's property goldmine.

As the boom neared its peak in 2006, the Ferrari-loving Dubliner's company, Landmark Enterprises, was on the brink of its biggest deal in which it would secure planning permission for the €500m development of the Beacon South Quarter at Sandyford Industrial Estate in south Dublin.

When the crash came, Shovlin and his fellow Landmark directors, Pat and Tony Fitzpatrick were left unable to repay the €280m in loans the company had taken out on the project. Shovlin, meanwhile, was in even deeper debt, owing to his membership of a consortium spearheaded by Derek Quinlan's Quinlan Private, which bought Bank of Ireland's former headquarters on Baggot Street for a figure just north of €200m in 2006.

Heavily indebted to Nama, Shovlin declared bankruptcy in the UK in 2012. Today, he is understood to be working as a property consultant in London.

Michael O'Flynn

With 38 years' experience in the property industry, the Cork-born developer's O'Flynn Group has delivered numerous residential, commercial, retail and industrial developments in Cork, Dublin and in the UK, Germany and Spain.

Widely acknowledged as a highly professional operator, O'Flynn almost singularly refused to be demonised for being a developer in the wake of the crash. Having co-operated fully with Nama, he found the exit door in 2014, when his companies' €1.8bn loans were sold to US private equity giant Blackstone.

When Blackstone tried to call in his companies' loans at short notice, O'Flynn took them to the High Court and won. A consensual deal, which saw the developer regain control of the O'Flynn Group's Irish business, has allowed him to begin again.

The developer has secured fresh financial backing and now aims to build up to 10,000 new homes in Dublin and Cork over the next seven to eight years.

Gerry Gannon

When the so-called 'man in the hat', Gerry Gannon, gave evidence at the 2014 trial of three former directors of Anglo Irish Bank, he was asked if he had been one of Ireland's biggest property developers in 2008 and if his net worth had approached €1bn.

"Probably, yeah," he replied.

Recognised as one of Ireland's most successful and prolific housebuilders, Roscommon-born Gannon's companies' €1bn plus in borrowings saw him land in Nama as one of the agency's top 10 most indebted.

While he has yet to exit Nama, it is arguable that the agency now needs him more than he needs it, given its stated ambitions of delivering thousands of new homes to alleviate the housing crisis, which is at its most acute in the capital.

Using funding provided by Nama, Gannon began unlocking the massive land banks he had assembled in and around north Dublin prior to the crash, with the construction of the first phase of 1,000 new homes in Swords in 2014.

Joe O'Reilly

When his companies' debts were taken over by Nama in 2010, they amounted to €2.8bn, making Joe O'Reilly the biggest and most-indebted developer on the books of the so-called 'bad bank'.

But while things looked bleak for the Longford-born builder then, the sheer quality of assets, such as the Dundrum Town Centre, the Pavilions in Swords, the Gaiety Centre on South King Street and offices at Grand Canal Dock, saw him secure the agency's support and his business's survival.

Other major assets in the Chartered Land chief's portfolio included substantial holdings in and around Dublin's O'Connell Street, which he assembled between 2004 and 2008 with a view to creating a €1bn retail-led centre.

Earlier this year, Nama's €1.85bn sale of O'Reilly's major assets - the Dundrum Town Centre, his 50pc stake in the Pavilions and Chartered Land's O'Connell Street holdings - to UK property giant Hammerson and German insurer Allianz was completed.

While O'Reilly is understood to have agreed an option to buy back 50pc of the O'Connell Street site by a June 2017 deadline, which may or may not be exercised, he is set to be retained by Hammerson as development manager onsite.

He is active elsewhere in the capital, with the development of high-end apartments on the site of the former Berkeley Court Hotel in Dublin 4.

O'Reilly's company acquired the former Berkeley and Jurys hotels last year for €170m with financial backing from the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.

Sean Mulryan

A native of Roscommon, Ballymore Properties chief Sean Mulryan began his working life as a AnCO trainee, where he learned his trade as a bricklayer stonemason. At the age of 25, he saw his opportunity to build once-off homes in Leinster and established his own business. He named his company Ballymore Homes after building his first house in Ballymore Eustace in Kildare.

And the rest, as they say, is history. From those modest beginnings, Mulryan grew his housebuilding operation to become one of the biggest builders in the State. In 1991, recognising the need to spread the company's risk, he looked to London, where he began buying up land in the city's then-neglected docklands.

It was a prescient move on two fronts, given what transpired in both markets over the following decade.

As Ireland's housing market began to overheat and London's docklands came into their own, Mulryan had minimised his exposure to the former and maximised the advantage he could take of the latter.

Despite his shrewd assessment of the Irish and UK markets, the Ballymore chief had made a fundamental error, however, in securing 90pc of his companies' borrowings from Irish banks, leaving him badly exposed when the crash came.

Recognising the need to work with Nama to sustain his business, Mulryan has maintained a low profile and been assiduous in paying down Ballymore's estimated €2.6bn debt to the agency through a series of major asset disposals in the UK. In a recent interview, he stated his ambition to repay all of Ballymore's outstanding Nama debt by the end of this year.

Mulryan is very much active in the Irish market again, with Ballymore partnering Singaporean fund Oxley Holdings on the development of Project Wave, a 250-apartment and office development in the docklands. Mulryan has also expressed his interest in the former Irish Glass Bottle site in Ringsend, which famously sold for €412m in 2006.

Ray Grehan

The Galway-born developer famously paid €171.5m - or a record €84m an acre - for the 2.2-acre veterinary college site in Ballsbridge at the height of the boom.

But before that, the former Glenkerrin Homes chief had built up an impressive portfolio of residential and commercial developments in Dublin, Kildare and London.

Among Grehan's best-known developments in Dublin were the concierge-serviced Grange apartments, built on the site of Esso's former headquarters in Stillorgan, Ballintyre, St Edmund's in Palmerstown and the Glenroyal Hotel in Maynooth, Co Kildare.

Over in London, the Glenkerrin Group owned a number of sites and properties, including a hotel in Shoreditch, which Grehan contended had been valued at £83m prior to Nama's appointment of receivers.

Grehan declared bankruptcy in the UK on December 29, 2011, following a protracted period of discussions with Nama which ultimately failed to deliver a plan for the work-out of his companies' €300m borrowings. Consenting to a seven-year bankruptcy restriction order in London's High Court in 2014 over an alleged failure to fully disclose his assets, Grehan gave his address as Abuja, Nigeria.

He is now understood to be working there as a consultant on development projects.

Bernard McNamara

At the height of his powers, the blue and yellow sign of McNamara Construction was to be found all across Ireland. The company's reach was down to the unrivalled ability of its principal - Bernard McNamara - to secure State projects off the back of aggressive tendering and a voracious appetite for work, which saw him traverse the country by car, and later, as the boom roared, by helicopter.

But it was that same relentless, debt-fuelled drive to acquire and develop which proved to be the Clare-born developer's undoing once the crash came. The catalogue of disasters included his ill-fated involvement in the €412m acquisition in 2006 by a group of Davy Stockbrokers' private investors of the former Glass Bottle site in Ringsend and the €400m he borrowed to buy the Burlington Hotel and former Allianz Insurance building in Ballsbridge in 2007.

With the collapse of the economy, his companies' loans were transferred to Nama. He declared bankruptcy in the UK in November 2012, with estimated debts of €2.7bn.

Since emerging from insolvency, he has been involved in several projects here in Ireland, including the rebuilding of the Denis O'Brien-owned Canada House on Dublin's St Stephen's Green and the expansion of Michael Smurfit's K Club in Kildare.

The developer has also found himself mired in controversy over fire-safety deficiencies detected at the Longboat Quay apartments, which his company built in Dublin's docklands during the boom.

John Flynn

While Flynn never actively sought publicity during the boom, the results of his longstanding partnership with Redquartz chief Paddy Kelly are dotted all over Dublin's city centre, from Burlington Plaza in Dublin 4 to Smithfield across the River Liffey to Belfield Office Park in Clonskeagh.

Since the crash, Flynn who is also one of the main investors in the Blackrock Clinic, has been active in pursuing business opportunities in the United States, while working to discharge his Nama debt.

But where other developers went down without a fight or protest in the crisis, Flynn has been dogged in his pursuit of any injustice he perceives may have been perpetrated against his business interests.

He pursued the IBRC in the US courts over alleged interest overcharging by the former Anglo Irish Bank and was successful in his 2014 High Court challenge to Nama's attempt to call in a €22m debt without giving him the "right to be heard".

Flynn's companies' loans are due to be put up for sale by Nama shortly along with those of Paddy Kelly, and the Dublin-based McCormack family, who control the property investment vehicle Alanis as part of its disposal of the €1.5bn par-value Project Tolka loan book.

Sean Dunne

He's the Carlow-born developer on whom everyone seems to have a strong opinion. It's hardly surprising, given his exploits in the boom and bust that followed.

When Sean Dunne splashed out a total of €510m on the acquisition of the former Jury's and Berkeley Court hotels and Hume House in Dublin 4, the media dubbed him the Baron of Ballsbridge'. But his plan to bring a piece of Knightsbridge to Dublin's embassy belt with the construction of a 37-storey tower designed by 'starchitect' Ulrik Raysse as its centrepiece was beset both by planning objections and the onset of the financial crisis.

In winning the so-called 'battle of Ballsbridge' by outbidding rivals - including Bernard McNamara, Paddy Kelly and Ray Grehan - for the former Jurys hotels site, Dunne had unwittingly sown the seeds of his own financial ruin.

But before he ever came to wider public attention for spending vast sums on trophy assets, the Tullow man had forged a career as a housebuilder and commercial property developer.

All told, Dunne's companies built some 3,500 homes in Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow and offices such as the Bloodstone Building in Dublin's docklands before the crash.

Strong-willed and combative by nature, the bureaucratic grind of life in Nama was always going to be difficult for Dunne to adapt to. On March 29, 2013, the developer took matters into his own hands in the US and declared bankruptcy, owing €690m.

While Dunne anticipated that the move would see him secure a clean bill of financial health within a matter of months, his main creditors - Ulster Bank (his lenders on the Jurys site) and Nama had other ideas.

He quickly earned the unique distinction of being declared bankrupt in two countries, following a successful application by the Ulster Bank to the High Court in Dublin that July.

For the past three years, Dunne has remained locked in a war of attrition with his biggest creditors, while his wife, the former social diarist Gayle Killilea, has reinvented herself as a property developer in her own right.

Noel Smyth

Solicitor and developer Noel Smyth was estimated by KPMG to have been worth €125m in October 2007, based on the value of his art collection, home and land. Once the economic tide went out, however, his company Fitzwilliam Finance Corp's overall borrowings of over €500m saw him join his fellow developers in Nama. Smyth's main Irish asset then was the Square Shopping Centre in Tallaght, which had some €395m in loans secured against it. The developer also had about £250m in British assets, with some £200m borrowed against them.

Smyth co-operated fully with the Nama process, selling off numerous assets to pay down his debt. His careful handling of his relationship with the agency has allowed him to continue his activities as an investor.

His most notable post-crash deal saw him team up with the Weston family-owned Selfridge Group to acquire the iconic Arnotts. Smyth subsequently sold Fitzwilliam's 50pc stake in Arnotts to the Selfridge Group but retains control of the department store's associated property portfolio, which he now intends to redevelop.

Johnny Ronan and Richard Barrett

As the former principals of Treasury Holdings, Ronan and Barrett are responsible for some of the most high-profile commercial property developments here in Ireland, including the Treasury Building on Grand Canal Street (which, in an ironic twist, is now home to Nama), the Convention Centre Dublin at Spencer Dock, Central Park in Leopardstown and the Ritz Carlton Hotel (now trading as the Powerscourt Hotel) in Co Wicklow.

With more than 130 individual real-estate assets within Treasury's overall portfolio prior to the crash, its assets had, at one point, a combined value of more than €4.6bn - with arguably more to come, had plans to develop London's Battersea Power Station and further its interests in China come to fruition.

Despite the quality of its assets, Treasury went down in flames in 2012, with Nama's appointment of receivers to certain of its assets. While Ronan and Barrett resisted the move in the High Court, their efforts to save the business, which had total borrowings of €2.7bn (€1.7bn of which was owed to Nama), proved futile.

While Ronan and Barrett have gone their separate ways since then, both are back in business. Since exiting Nama in 2015, Ronan has formed a new company, Ronan Group Real Estate (RGRE), and is already working on over €1bn in new projects. Among RGRE's major developments are the €150m Vertium office building on Dublin's Burlington Road and a €300m office campus at AIB's headquarters in Ballsbridge.

The Shanghai-based Barrett, meanwhile, has been involved in a series of start-ups through his new company, Bartra Capital. Among his interests are HengXinLi - an online platform which aims to give Chinese investors access to property in major international cities, including in Dublin, for a minimum amount of $2,500 (€2,218).

The former Treasury chief's interest in the Irish property market recently saw him examine the possibility of buying the 27-site property portfolio of developer Greg Kavanagh's New Generation Homes.

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