Thursday 22 March 2018

Irish developer Johnny Ronan reveals bid for iconic Empire State Building

'Worst [decision]? Not buying the freehold of the Empire State Building in the early 1980s'

Developer Johnny Ronan was outbid by $500,000 for the Empire State Building
Developer Johnny Ronan was outbid by $500,000 for the Empire State Building
Johnny Ronan

Ronald Quinlan Commercial Property Editor

It's long been known that Johnny Ronan is a man of towering ambition. However, the sheer scale of the developer's dreams have only just been revealed in a rare and wide-ranging interview he has given to the UK's commercial property bible, 'Property Week'.

Asked to comment on the worst decision he had ever made in business, Mr Ronan disclosed how in the early 1980s he had only narrowly missed out on buying the freehold lease of New York's world-famous Empire State Building.

"Worst [decision]? Not buying the freehold of the Empire State Building in the early 1980s. We bid $500,000 less than the winning bid," he said.

The developer's best decision, in contrast, he revealed was his appointment of his daughter, Jodie, as chief operating officer (COO) of Ronan Group Real Estate (RGRE) in 2012.

Commenting on this, he said: "She was instrumental in navigating the business's exit from Nama, repaying 100pc of debt."

While RGRE has been forging ahead since Mr Ronan's exit from Nama with several major commercial property developments either delivered, under way or at planning stage in Dublin's central business district, it's clear that his years dealings with the State agency represent a period in his life he would prefer to leave behind.

The developer is determined to move on, saying: "I may be coloured by the Nama years, but I like Winston Churchill's famous saying: "Never give in - never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy." Perhaps more succinctly, "illegitimi non carborundum" [loosely translated as 'Don't let the bastards grind you down']."

Outside of the three developments he says he is most proud of, namely Spencer Dock, the Convention Centre Dublin and the Central Park office campus in Leopardstown, the RGRE chief said he was proud to have 'cracked' Battersea Power Station by securing the biggest planning permission ever in central London at more than 8m sq ft.

While delivery of Battersea is no longer under his control, he said it was still "very satisfying to see our scheme being built" by its current owners, SP Setia and their partners.

Recalling the early stages of planning for Battersea, he said: "It was fun working with Rafael Vinoly, our architect for the scheme. I remember well the night in Hakkasan restaurant in London with Rafael, Guy Leech, my finance director, and my son John, when we 'cracked' the scheme. Rafael was the only one who believed we could deliver on that vision and he still has the napkin we sketched on that evening, which is strikingly similar to the planning we achieved."

"If Nama had allowed us to proceed with the joint venture deal with SP Setia that we tabled , the Irish taxpayer would have shared in the billions of euros in profits that the development will generate," Mr Ronan added.

Irish Independent

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