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New names vie with old hands as developers back in game

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Johnny Ronan

Johnny Ronan

Gerry Gannon

Gerry Gannon

Greg Kavanagh

Greg Kavanagh

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Johnny Ronan

The boom brought us many things but perhaps the most memorable was the rise of the celebrity developer.

Whether it was Sean Dunne spending €379m in Ballsbridge, or Ray Grehan shelling out €171m for a two-acre site nearby, the huge figures thrown about at the time helped the builders achieve a kind of mythic status in the minds of everyday people.

Those days are long gone now though. Dunne is fighting bankruptcy in the United States and Grehan this week consented to a bankruptcy order in the UK lasting seven years.

However, there are plenty of developers who are looking to get back in the game, and there are also some new kids on the scene.

Of the new developers two stand out above the others: New Generation Homes and The Comer Group.

The brainchild of 29-year-old former bricklayer Greg Kavanagh, New Generation Homes has raised tens of millions of euro from investors and bought up large tracts of land that will eventually be sites for badly needed new homes.

"You have people who are good at certain things, it's no coincidence that Ronaldo and Messi win World Player of the Year and are at the top of their field. Certain people are good at certain things and I'm good at business," he said earlier this year.

New Generation built and sold more than 100 homes in 2013 and is expected to exceed that number comfortably this year.

The Comer Group are hardly "new developers" but after a more than 30 year absence, they are new to Ireland. Brothers Luke and Barry Comer left this island in the 1970s and headed to the UK where they made their first fortune. A decade ago they spotted an opportunity in Germany, especially in shopping centres.

The Galway natives didn't start investing in Irish property until about 2011. Since then they have forked out about €250m.

Famously, they paid an estimated €22.5m for the former UCD veterinary college site in Ballsbridge - the same two-acre site Grehan paid €171.5m for eight years previously.

They have started building an office block there. Their firm is spending more than €1bn on 3,000 homes beside Dublin Airport.

While the Comers and Mr Kavanagh weren't involved in boom-time Ireland, some of the biggest names of the last decade are making a comeback.

Gerry Gannon was one of the biggest home builders in the country during the 1990s and 2000s. One of the Maple 10 Anglo Irish Bank investors, Mr Gannon has largely stayed out of the spotlight since a large proportion of his debts were transferred to NAMA in 2010.

In September, the "man in the hat" launched the first phase of the Miller's Glen estate in Swords, Co Dublin. The 60 homes that went on the market achieved almost instant fame after a small number of housebuyers queued overnight to guarantee their dream homes.

Gannon is believed to be close to exiting NAMA, as is Sean Mulryan, and another big name of the past, Johnny Ronan. Mr Ronan and business partner Richard Barrett, through their Treasury Holdings, built the likes of the Convention Centre Dublin, Central Park in Leopardstown, and Montevetro - the biggest single office block in the country.

Recently Mr Ronan was part of a consortium that bought a prime development site beside the Burlington Hotel for €40.5m, while he has also been eyeing the soon to be for sale Dundrum Town Centre.

Bernard McNamara may have overpaid when he and his partners paid €412m for the old Irish Glass site in Ringsend in 2006 - it has yet to be built on - or when his team handed over €288m for the Burlington Hotel (sold two years ago for €67m). But after a spell in bankruptcy, the McNamara construction name is back in public.

The firm is involved in constructing a new office block on Stephen's Green. The site is owned by businessman Denis O'Brien.

Irish Independent