Wednesday 21 February 2018

New city hub to hail return of the Celtic Tigers

Nama chairman won't rule out calling on bust developers to transform Dublin Docklands

Johnny Ronan
Johnny Ronan
Ronald Quinlan

Ronald Quinlan

Johnny Ronan, Bernard McNamara and other major developers laid low by the crash may be called into action to deliver Nama's grand plan to transform Dublin Docklands into a rival for Canary Wharf in London.

"I don't rule anybody out or anybody in, but we will be quite careful about who we work with," Nama chairman Frank Daly said, when asked by the Sunday Independent if his agency would object to the involvement of individuals such as Mr Ronan and Mr McNamara in its ambitions for the capital city's waterfront.

Nama's decision to seek joint venture partners to bring its plans for the docklands to fruition makes it more likely that experienced developers - many of whom have first-hand knowledge of the area - will find their services in demand, according to property industry sources.

Indeed, in the cases of Mr Ronan and Mr McNamara, both have already been retained by major investors for projects elsewhere in Dublin city centre.

Mr Ronan is working with the UK-based Development Securities to redevelop the former Allianz headquarters on Burlington Road, alongside property tycoon Paddy McKillen and his financiers, US private equity giant, Colony Capital. Mr McNamara, meanwhile, has been retained by billionaire businessman Denis O'Brien to redevelop Canada House on St Stephen's Green.

"If the people putting the money up for the project want to have Johnny Ronan, Bernard McNamara, or Harry Crosbie on board, then that's what they will get," one property industry expert said, noting the direct involvement of all three in the docklands regeneration which had taken place prior to the economic crash.

While Nama's plans for the development of an additional 280,000 square metres of office space and 1,500 apartments in and around the IFSC is being strongly supported by the Government - with Finance Minister Michael Noonan describing it as "exciting" - the area's transformation was kick-started decades ago with the acquisition by Harry Crosbie of lands in the then 'no-go' area.

Mr Crosbie went on to build several iconic buildings in the docklands, including the Point (now the O2), the Grand Canal Theatre, and the Convention Centre, which he developed in partnership with Johnny Ronan and Richard Barrett of Treasury Holdings. Elsewhere along the river front, developers such as Sean Dunne and Paddy Kelly made their own contributions, with the construction respectively of the Bloodstone Building and National College of Ireland.

Once the financial crisis took hold, the fortunes of the Dublin Dockland kings evaporated as their various banks and Nama pursued them for the recovery of the multi-million euro borrowings they had used to fund the growth of their empires.

Asked if he saw any irony in the prospect of working with developers whose companies Nama had in many cases put into receivership, Mr Daly said: "It's not irony. It's reality."

The Nama chairman added: "First, we didn't necessarily do that on all of the sites down there. Secondly, where we did pull the plug, where we did appoint receivers, [we did it] as you well know, as a last resort after every opportunity was given and every attempt was made to work with the debtor."

Commenting on Nama's plans for the docklands, Mr Daly was clear that the agency's past dealings with developers would not cloud its decision-making.

He said: "What we want to see are people who will joint-venture or partner with us, people who are credible, who will, we feel, operate to a high standard, will work to standards that we can be happy with, so I don't rule 
anybody out or anybody in, but we will be quite careful about who we work with.

"I'm not going down the road as to who we would be working with. We invited expressions of interest from people who want to joint-venture with us.

"My understanding is that it's nearly at the 200 mark at the moment and we'll evaluate that along the way," Mr Daly added.

Taken together with the existing IFSC development, the North Lotts and Grand Canal Dock Strategic Development Zone (SDZ) could deliver a total of 544,000 square metres of office space which would be enough to accommodate some 45,000 employees.

Referring to the docklands' potential at a press briefing last Wednesday, Mr Noonan said: "Nama now has the opportunity to bring this area to life and create a Dublin Docklands that will rival the likes of London's Canary Wharf, Boston's Seaport and Singapore's Marina Bay."

Mr Noonan's assessment came following a strategic review of Nama's operations by his department.

Sunday Independent

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