Monday 26 September 2016

Luxury boutique hotel planned above city's iconic Bewley's cafe

Published 08/11/2015 | 02:30

An outside view of Bewleys
An outside view of Bewleys
Comeback kid: Johnny Ronan is set to develop a 70-bed luxury hotel over Bewley's on Grafton Street
Inside Bewleys on Grafton Street
Another inside view of Bewleys

High-profile property developer Johnny Ronan has announced plans to build four new hotels, including a stunning 70-bed boutique hotel in the iconic Bewley's Building on Dublin's Grafton Street, the Sunday Independent can exclusively reveal.

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The luxury hotel will complement the Bewley's coffee house in the landmark building, which was immortalised in James Joyce's Ulysses.

The famous Harry Clarke stained-glass windows will be a central feature in the design and the project is seen as 'win-win' for the cafe, ensuring the long-term viability of the business.

The announcement comes amid a flood of other major new projects, which will be developed by Ronan and his team at Ronan Group Real Estate with an estimated investment of €250m. The developments are due for completion in 2017 and 2018.

In a second major venture, the prolific developer has announced a 167-bed, four-star hotel named Aquavetro. The hotel will be situated in what will soon be Dublin's tallest building, a 22-storey waterfront tower, which Ronan is currently developing adjacent to Tara Street Dart station. It is the latest in a long line of joint venture partnerships with CIE, which owns the site.

The building, which will also include Grade A offices on the upper floors, will be a landmark addition to Dublin's skyline and a major boost to tourism in the city.

The timely announcement comes only two days after a report by property agents Jones Lang Lasalle (JLL) on Friday which warned that Dublin needs as many as 3,000 new hotel rooms or it will continue to lose out on attracting international events to the city.

This weekend, Shane Whelan, development director for Ronan Group, told the Sunday Independent that "the focus on delivering hotels is to satisfy the strong demand generated by record tourism numbers, a recovering economy and restricted hotel capacity".

He explained: "The last lease we signed was with Starwood for the Westin Hotel in 1996. Leases are now back in vogue as hotel operators don't need their capital tied up in bricks and mortar."

In a third major development, Ronan will develop The Enniskerry Park Hotel, a 200-bed hotel on a scenic 4.5-acre site in Enniskerry, neighbouring his former Ritz-Carlton Hotel, a prior Ronan Group development that has subsequently been named The Powerscourt Hotel by its current owners.

And in a fourth major project that will round off the current plan for Ronan Group Real Estate's hotel development portfolio, Ronan will develop a site in the picturesque village of Delgany, Co Wicklow.

Ronan, who is nominated for 'property entrepreneur of the year' at the Irish Independent Property Excellence Awards at Dublin's Convention Centre on Thursday night, has invited lease proposals through Knight Frank.

Meanwhile, on Friday JLL warned that Dublin hotel prices will continue to rise, if availability remains an issue. According to a report, the average price of a room is now €127 - an increase of nearly a fifth in just one year.

JLL senior vice-president for hotels Daniel O'Connor said that even if an extra 3,000 rooms were to be built, there would still be little slack in the system.

"Improving levels of corporate and leisure bed night demand in Dublin city are fuelling the demand for new hotel developments," he said.

"Such is the strength of the Dublin hotel market, we estimate that average occupancy levels in the city would still remain at 80pc, even if 3,000 additional guest rooms were to come online today."

JLL also pointed out that barely 500 hotel rooms were built in Dublin since 2010 - and only 300 are due to be added by the end of next year.

As a result, occupancy rates in the city stand at 84pc. There are about 19,000 hotel rooms in Dublin at present, but that needs to increase to 22,000.

The report has come as a bitter row broke out over who was to blame for high hotel prices during the Web Summits in Dublin over recent years. Web Summit organisers claimed that the high cost of hotels was one of the reasons why they were moving the event to Lisbon next year.

On April 1, Ronan became the most high-profile developer to exit Nama, having paid back close to €400m over the past two years. US private equity group Colony Capital and international bank M&G helped to refinance close to €300m worth of Nama debt. Previously, Ronan had paid back close to €100m through property sales, offloading Chinese interests and selling the MOP headquarters to Irish Life, an office on Burlington Road to Bernie Gallagher, and other assets. The Ronan Group recently launched a new website and branding for its business.

Sunday Independent

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