Sunday 24 March 2019

Dublin firm plans €3bn development in Chicago

Barry O'Neill, ceo of the WElink Group
Barry O'Neill, ceo of the WElink Group

John Reynolds

The Irish-founded modular home builder and solar energy developer WElink Group has signed a deal with the Mayor of Chicago to build up to 20,000 homes on the 440-acre lakeshore site of an old steel works in the city.

The deal, announced this week, is subject to due diligence and an environmental review.

Breandan Macamhlaoibh, procurement director, WElink Group
Breandan Macamhlaoibh, procurement director, WElink Group

A subsidiary of Dublin-headquartered WElink, Emerald Living, and its partner, Barcelona Housing systems, will develop the New South Works project. "We envisage a multi-phase, mixed use development that combines residential with commercial retail and office space," said WElink co-founder and ceo Barry O'Neill. "Although the exact product mix and phasing will not be finalised for some time, our preliminary analysis suggests that the development will exceed €3bn ($3.5bn) over the lifetime of the project."

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel added: "This is a major milestone towards converting an unused stretch of land that represents Chicago's industrial past into a vibrant community that will contribute to the city's economic, cultural and recreational future. I look forward to seeing the community's dynamic vision for this site become a reality."

“Our modular homes technology provides an industrial platform for large-scale housing construction, enabling rapid site assembly with high-quality materials, while promoting green technology, environmental sustainability, and community living,” said Cesar Ramirez Martinell, founder of WElink’s partner, Barcelona Housing Systems.

The firm’s masterplan envisages up to 32 pedestrian-friendly blocks, several hundred shops and a number of urban vegetable gardens, as well as a 40-acre green technology district, 10 acres of cultural and leisure space, 46 acres of green waterfront space, and 16 acres of community facilities.

WElink also aims to offer affordable homes for residents of the area as well as job and training opportunities for locals. It is understood that as much of the manufacturing of the modular homes will take place on-site as possible.

The steelworks that was previously on the site was closed in 1992 and was part of Chicago’s industrial lifeblood, employing thousands of people.

WElink’s founders, Barry O’Neill, a former executive with Irish-headquartered oil-to-computer-games distributor DCC, and engineer Breandan MacAmhlaoibh, are  carving out substantial business opportunities in solar energy and modular housing.

Earlier this year, the Dubliners announced a €2.9bn green homes and factories joint venture in Britain and a €230m solar farm development in Portugal.

One of their key partners is the Chinese state-owned China National Buildings Material, which has €80bn of net assets. However, O’Neill and MacAmhlaoibh have previously raised over €300m in the past seven years, with projects’ capital costs financed using project finance that the firm raises.

The business is profitable and O’Neill and MacAmhlaoibh tend to retain the controlling equity stake in each of its projects.

Other investors are a mix, mainly of family offices, small funds and private investors here, in the US and in Britain.

Sunday Indo Business

Also in Business