Sunday 25 February 2018

Longboat Quay just one of many McNamara buildings

The former Irish Glass Bottle site in Dublin. Photo: Gerry Mooney
The former Irish Glass Bottle site in Dublin. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Peter Flanagan

Peter Flanagan

Bernard McNamara, whose company Gendsong Limited was behind the construction of the Longboat Quay apartments, was one of the most prolific developers of the Celtic Tiger years - albeit one of the most reclusive.

He was famously media-shy and, as his Michael McNamara Construction business was a private company, he did not have to answer to shareholders or make the sort of announcements required of leaders of listed companies.

The Clare native made his name on apartments and office blocks during the boom, but is perhaps best known for some of his property plays that went belly-up once the crash took hold.

The family business was set up by his father Michael, and hoardings for Michael McNamara Construction in Clare's blue and yellow livery became one of the most common sights around the country, along with its tagline: "Better built by McNamara."

He was a Fianna Fáil councillor during the 1970s and ran as a candidate in a general election before moving to Dublin to make his fortune.

Mr McNamara made that fortune by operating both as a contractor but, more lucratively, as a developer. The plays he was involved in give some idea of how big a deal he became over the last decade-and-a-half.

He led a consortium that paid €288m for the Burlington Hotel in 2007. Back in the heady days of the boom it seemed the price was not completely over the top. His team shelled out €46m for Carisbrook House - a 1960s-era office block in the south Dublin suburb.

But that wasn't all. He then led a group which forked out €140m for the Shelbourne Hotel before ploughing €90m into a project to extend and renovate the hotel. Another deal saw the purchase of the Montrose Hotel in south Dublin for €40m.

The big one, however, was the purchase of the former Irish Glass Bottle site in Ringsend for €412m. That deal involved a consortium that included the Dublin Docklands Development Authority.

Once the crash came though, Mr McNamara saw his business turn quickly and his lenders soon moved against him.

Bank of Scotland (Ireland), put the Burlington into receivership, and it was bought by US private equity firm Blackstone for €67m in 2012.

Carisbrook House was sold in 2012 for close to €16m.

Another investment firm, Kennedy Wilson, took over the Shelbourne Hotel 18 months ago, while the Montrose Hotel has been redeveloped for student accommodation. The Irish Glass Bottle site is now valued at less than a 10th of the price paid for it.

Mr McNamara was declared bankrupt in the UK with debts of €1.2bn. That was discharged last year and he has since re-established himself in Ireland and in particular in Dublin. He is building the LXV building on St Stephen's Green.

Irish Independent

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