Thursday 23 November 2017

Is there a bit more bang left in the bearded buccaneer?

After Treasury's €2.7bn liquidation, Ronan is thought to be eyeing up a return to development, writes Roisin Burke

Johnny Ronan
Johnny Ronan
Connaught House in Dublin 4 with 43-49 Mespil Road in the background
Ronan’s former home on Burlington Road, which is now rented out
Temple Chambers, which was sold earlier this year
8-34 Percy Place, where Ronan holds a major stake

Roisin Burke

Former Irish property titan Johnny Ronan is emerging from the ashes of Treasury's €2.7bn liquidation with a mind to return to the developer fray – or so we're told.

With the sale in play of a prime Dublin 4 office block at 8-34 Percy Place in which he holds a major stake, it is said that he is "recalibrating" his personal property portfolio to marshal funds for a multi-million-euro commercial property development.

The building overlooking the Grand Canal went on the market last week, expected to raise €8.5m.

Earlier this year, the erstwhile, Maybach-driving, Town Bar & Grill-dining, ponytailed man about town sold Temple Chambers, a cornerstone of his portfolio, to Doyle hotel dynasty doyenne Bernie Gallagher and her husband, raising €13.3m.

Though it appears to have been sold at a loss, having been bought at peak in 2005 for €17m, its annual rent roll over the years has been around €800,000.

Many of Ronan's other property investments date back to the '80s and were acquired for a song.

Word is that this divestment is with the ambition of buying and building a grandscale D4 office complex on Burlington Road, a stone's throw from Dublin's Silicon square mile and in a location where demand for very-high-spec space is brisk.

"He's getting back into building and development on existing sites in his portfolio," a source familiar with his plans said.

"Selling this building will release funds and he's currently looking at development. He is certainly keen to buy the building on Mespil Road, next to Connaught House."

A key part of Ronan's personal portfolio dating back decades, Connaught House – where liquidated former Anglo Irish Bank IBRC was a tenant – is perfectly strategically located and suited to a big development expansion.

Marble-clad and expensively fitted-out, its main door handles were apparently specially selected by Ronan and lavishly embossed and designed, specially imported from Italy. When attached to their fixtures, they were so heavy they regularly fell off.

Reports that Ronan wants to drum up funds to buy 43-49 Mespil Road, a former Treasury Holdings building next door to Connaught House and on the market, are described as accurate, although Ronan declined to comment on Friday. It's for sale for around €16m.

Connaught House was designed to merge easily with the Mespil Road building and an amalgamation of the two would make a knockout mega corporate headquarters for some multinational tech giant or other to plot the European leg of its world domination mission.

Ronan would face cut-throat competition in any such ambition from multiple bidders.

Likely candidates include Kennedy Wilson, which owns the Bank of Ireland headquarters next door (an ex-Treasury building also designed to merge with Mespil Road); the Gallaghers; or any number of the other scavenging funds or high-net-worth types cruising for property plays.

Earlier this week, Ronan's personal portfolio of about two dozen investments was reported to be worth in the region of €300m. It's made up of prime office buildings, Dublin 2 and 4 apartments and land in Tipperary and Wicklow, owned mainly by Ronan and family members, according to Companies Office documents.

There's the famous Treasury Building – the one with the Ronan-commissioned fibreglass sculpture of a buxom naked woman climbing deftly up the side – where Nama has its HQ with a €900,000-a-year rent.

It is co-owned with Claridges investor Paddy McKillen and AIB Investment Managers.

There is a stake in a €20m office building off Fitzwilliam Square where the Medical Council is a tenant to the tune of over €820,000 a year; Fortis Bank's headquarters at Spencer Dock beside the National Conference Centre; and offices at 30 Herbert Street.

There's the former home and once legendary party haunt, the "pink Palazzo" on Burlington Road, which is thought to be rented to the Emirates ambassador.

There's a sprawling 75-acre family home estate in the scenic Dargle Valley in Enniskerry, which was bought for €750,000 in the '90s, and land in Ronan's native turf at Carrick-on-Suir in Co Tipperary.

He is said to have bought, many years back, the historic house and lands at Stylebawn in Co Wicklow.

All will, of course, have tumbled in value in more recent years but are nevertheless quality assets, some with many years of accumulated worth. Many properties where he is invested were bought for a fraction of what they are worth now, even in this blitzed market.

There are no near-term plans to sell anything further in his portfolio, although it had been expected that Connaught House itself was likely to be put on the market this year.

If a vision to buy and build the next-door Mespil Road property fails, it could be lucratively sold.

A Ronan company owns the €1.5m-a-year-rent-roll Bewleys building on Grafton Street, but that is under the control of Nama. What bank or Nama leverage might apply to other properties isn't always clear.

Ronan came away from a recent High Court settlement with Nama related to former Treasury Asia assets with €3m. He is understood to retain a stake of the Asia business, but this couldn't be confirmed on Friday.

The 59-year-old Castleknock-educated son of a Tipperary pig farmer has been synonymous with the Irish property market since the early '80s, seeing the potential of the now-booming Grand Canal/IFSC docklands area from way back.

Last year, the former tycoon's Treasury Holdings, controlled by he and schoolfriend Richard Barrett, was declared insolvent with loans of €2.7bn.

Sunday Independent

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