independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Harry Crosbie: 'Developer' is not a dirty word

DUBLIN developer Harry Crosbie has spoken out for the first time against the excessive blame heaped on Irish builders for the recession.

Mr Crosbie made the comments as he described a crisis brewing in Dublin's Docklands, and warned there would be a shortage of infrastructure and prime office and apartment space unless building work started "immediately".

Calling on people to release themselves from the tide of negativity that had arisen against developers, he argued that economic paralysis was not the answer to our current problems.

"I think it's time that the powers that be drew a line in the sand over what happened five years ago and stop 'developers' and 'development' being dirty words," he said.

"One of the things that annoys me is when I read in the papers that the Celtic Tiger was all bad. Because it wasn't all bad -- and there were huge landmarks achieved for this city because of the Celtic Tiger," added Mr Crosbie, who was speaking at the Gibson Hotel in Dublin to a room of corporate bosses and politicians, including Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan.

Mr Crosbie made the comments as he became the first recipient of the Dublin Docklands Lifetime Achievement Award.

The developer's O2 was recently voted the fourth-best arena in the world, while The Conference Centre, built in conjunction with Treasury Holdings, has brought millions into the Irish economy.

Recalling a time when "many hundreds, sometimes thousands of men would stand in the rain waiting for work" at the Docklands, Mr Crosbie said the area had been given "a dignity and a newness" thanks to its transformation during the boom years.

"There were massive mistakes made, But down here -- [when you look at] the social improvements -- [you see] it was never about the money. It was about the improvement of the urban quality of living," he said.

Hitting out at knee-jerk reactions that tarred all developers with the same brush, Mr Crosbie added: "What has happened is that the media have lumped all of the developers into the same pot. [But] the people who made this happen were a lot of very skilled people and this was a world-class development all around the docks.

"But in the public mind, we are lumped in with the people who built the ghost estates, [the people] who were amateurs, who did not know what they were doing. And that is very, very wrong.

"The real industry is not like that. The people who built here, and there are a lot of them in this room, are hugely professional people who should be very, very proud."

In a call to kick-start development ahead of an impending crisis in Ireland's 'Silicon Docks', which has been a magnet for foreign investors, Mr Crosbie said now was the time to get back to work: "There is a big problem looming in the docks. When the crash happened, all development stopped for five years. Nothing has happened here -- nothing. And in the meantime, thousands and thousands have come here to work in the Facebooks and the Yahoos, and all these things, and there is no infrastructure.

"One of the reasons that these events give a platform to somebody like me is because there are a lot of very, very influential and powerful people in this room to send the signal that we have got to get back to work.

"There are huge gaps in the requirements in the Docklands. These bright young things in their thousands are coming.

"There are not enough shops, there are not enough basic operations like shopping centres. There are not enough apartments. We have got to get back to work and finish the docks."

He added: "They are not finished. There is five more years' work to be done here. And we need this as a matter of urgency because I think there is going to be a shortage of floor plates coming for the next generation."

In February, Nama chairman Frank Daly said the agency planned to develop new commercial and residential projects as part of its €2bn investment programme in Ireland in response to emerging demand in key markets.

Speaking to the Association of European Journalists in Dublin, the agency's chairman said: "The area is expected to require significant new development over the medium term, particularly of commercial office space, to accommodate the continued expansion of the financial services sector and the creation of new business and technology hubs in the wake of the move by companies such as Google and Facebook to the area."

In July, the IDA warned that a shortage of prime commercial property in Dublin could hamper its efforts to attract large multinational firms.

Speaking at the launch of the IDA's annual report, CEO Barry O'Leary said four large investments would require 400,000 sq ft of commercial space in the Dublin area in the coming months.

He said a further 200,000 sq ft of commercial space would likely be required for potential projects also.

Mr Crosbie became a key force behind the development of the Docklands after he first bought derelict land in the area for less than £1m in 1989. His involvement, included the building of the O2, which used to be The Point Depot, the Point Village, the Bord Gais Energy Theatre and the Gibson Hotel.

His properties have been taken over by Nama, but Mr Crosbie is hopeful of regaining control.

The award was presented to him by the Docklands Business Forum which represents 200 businesses in the area.

The forum said Mr Crosbie was an "advocate of urban regeneration and a visionary entrepreneur".

It added: "Your achievements are enduring and will long outlive the current tide."

Niamh Horan

Irish Independent

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