Now we've sold Dundrum, it's time to own up that we love it
Dundrum Town Centre was Nama’s jewel, writes Sarah Caden, and maybe it’s time we stopped being snobs and saw its value
Published 04/10/2015 | 02:30
The sounds of Dundrum Town Centre will never be the sounds of the city street or even those of a small town. There are no buskers, no charity chuggers, no traffic noises, no rain, no wind, no sunshine, for that matter. Instead, the sounds of Dundrum Town Centre are those of shuffling Ugg boots, the smooth roll of Bugaboo buggy wheels, the low hum of conversation, the muffled clatter of coffee cups and cutlery.
It's not the same as shopping in Dublin city centre or your local town, but we're not the same people we were before Dundrum Town Centre opened a decade ago. And much as we still like to sneer at the bed-head hair SoCoDu teenagers and Yummy Drummy mummies, we're all using the place like our town centre. Even the people who sneer.
And that's why it became Nama's 'jewel' property. And that's why, given who bought Dundrum Town Centre, it's likely to become even more of a hub of commerce, alive with the hum of all human life.
In 2005, when Dundrum Town Centre opened, your average, ordinary Irish person was suspicious of it. It seemed to be too slick, too American, too neutered to really catch on with the likes of us.
We like to suffer for our shopping, was one school of thought. The other was that it was only for those sorts with more money than sense - and no taste, obviously - of whom there were plenty in the boom. But employing that kind of logic, Dundrum should have sunk without trace when the bust happened. Instead, however, it did just fine. We used it not to go mad on spending, but as somewhere to be. So it survived, and while its loans had to be sold by Nama, it did relatively well for us, taking in €1.85bn for €2.6bn of loans. That's good, by Nama standards, and a sign that we are making Dundrum work, despite ourselves.
It's also telling that one of the buyers is UK property firm Hammerson, which spoke last week about bringing new players into the centre and of their "strong relationship" with the likes of Cos, Reiss and Mango, as well as Five Guys and Byron, both of which are upscale burger restaurants.
So they're not just buying Dundrum to let it coast along as is. Their opinion is that we want more. They're buying it to make it bigger and better, it would seem. A decade ago, we might have imagined we'd hate this. In truth, we've embraced it, so maybe we should stop being such snobs about it. Because, the truth is, Dundrum Town Centre suits who we are today.
And who we are, if you look around Dundrum Town Centre on a Saturday, is pretty much everyone. And that's not even saying everyone with cash to spend. You can go to Dundrum and just buy a coffee - as Guggi, who lives nearby, once told me he does every morning. There is the splash-out option in Harvey Nichols, that can be balanced by some cheap counterpoints in H&M.
There is spend a lot or spend a little. There is people-watching, meet-your granny-where-it's-warm, there's Penneys for a bumper bag of goods for next to nothing, there coffee everywhere you look and there are people simply making the place work for them.
It works for how we live, even though we try to believe that we live differently, that we are different people to who we are today. Across the board, we are busy. We are short on time, high on demands made of us. We don't have time to window-shop and we don't have the energy to drag kids around the streets. We need something made easy and so we flock to the indoor haven.
And everyone's at it. Around 9am, there's a buggy brigade, who have been up since dawn with the babies they are pushing; who have discovered that just being surrounded by people and activity and lights, they feel less alienated from the world. Around 11am, there are the parents of older kids - possibly also up since dawn - for whom an early family-friendly movie is the ideal downtime, followed by something to eat close by. That's a family day-out in the winter.
The parents of the small ones tend to leave by 3pm, when the wave of teens and adults stroll in. There are kids at birthday parties, whose mothers get to take their time in BT2 or Zara while they have free hands and heads.
There are the teenagers with disabilities whose parents - whom I watch because I will be one of them, one day - wave them off with their friends to get a feel of some safe independence. There are the huge, protein-only rugby guys in Nando's.
There are the rugby and football and GAA widows jamming the car parks when there's a big match on. There are separated dads who wouldn't know where to go with the kids without the place.
I did some of my growing up around Dundrum village and I am of an age to remember when the site of the Town Centre was the Dundrum Bowl and Crazy Prices. You'd miss neither when you sit in Jamie's Italian, exactly where the Bowl was, or get everything from a "Dine In" deal to your dishwasher tablets in M&S and Tesco. It has all changed; but we have changed. Sometimes, should I approach the Town Centre from the M50, I have failed to stop myself from telling my children that, "This was a small country road when I was young." I know I sound ancient, but while we embrace the new, we shouldn't entirely forget the old.
But while all eyes are on how the new owners might improve the Town Centre, maybe there's a little room to consider the past. There's room for improvement in the old Dundrum Shopping Centre, which has become the poor relation of the Town Centre in recent years. It might give a holistic lift to Dundrum, probably increase footfall in the shops in the village, and revive a centre that was the bee's knees back in the 1980s. Because there's still room in our hearts for the buzz of the street, even if the Town Centre seems to have it all.