Monday 26 August 2019

The boys are back in town: The old-school developers making a comeback


Lansdowne Place, €1m-plus apartments on the site of former Berkeley Court being built by Joe O'Reilly's Chartered Land.
Lansdowne Place, €1m-plus apartments on the site of former Berkeley Court being built by Joe O'Reilly's Chartered Land.
Bernard McNamara
Gerry Gannon
Sean Mulryan. Photo: Damien Eagers
Luke Comer
Michael Cotter
Paddy McKillen
Michael O'Flynn
Ronald Quinlan

Ronald Quinlan

Ireland's post-bailout resurgence has seen the building industry revive. In the first instalment of a two-part series, our commercial property editor names the boom-era developers whose careers are once again in the ascendant

Sean Mulryan

Sean Mulryan. Photo: Damien Eagers

A native of Roscommon, the Ballymore Properties chief learned his trade as a bricklayer stonemason. At the age of 25, he saw his opportunity to build once-off homes in Leinster and established his own business. From those modest beginnings, Mulryan became one of the biggest builders in the State. In 1991, recognising the need to spread the company's risk, he looked to London, where he began buying up land in the city's neglected docklands.

As Ireland's housing market began to overheat and London's docklands came into their own, Mulryan had minimised his exposure to the former and maximised the advantage he could take of the latter.

The Ballymore chief had made a fundamental error, however, in securing 90pc of his company's borrowings from Irish banks, leaving him badly exposed when the crash came.

Johnny Ronan's proposed Aqua Vetro tower, which would be Dublin's tallest building
Johnny Ronan's proposed Aqua Vetro tower, which would be Dublin's tallest building
Dublin Landings, a proposed Ballymore development
Cosgraves houses at Cualanor, the latest phase of Honeypark

Recognising the need to work with Nama to sustain his business, Mulryan knuckled down, maintained a low profile and concentrated all his and his team's efforts on repaying Ballymore's estimated gross debt of €3.2bn to Nama.

He achieved that aim at the end of last year following a series of major asset disposals in the UK.  Mulryan is very much active in the Irish market again, with Ballymore partnering Singaporean fund Oxley Holdings on the development of the Dublin Landings scheme in the city's docklands.

He has also expressed interest in developing the former Irish Glass Bottle (IGB) site in Ringsend, which was famously sold for €412m in 2006.

Ballymore is already back to supplying the new homes market with schemes under way at Piper's Hill in Naas, Co Kildare and Marnock's Bay in Portmarnock, north county Dublin.

Michael O'Flynn

Michael O'Flynn

With 39 years' experience in the property industry, the Cork-born developer's O'Flynn Group has delivered numerous residential, commercial, retail and industrial developments in Cork, Dublin and in the UK, Germany and Spain.

Widely acknowledged as a highly professional operator, O'Flynn almost singularly refused to be demonised for being a developer in the wake of the crash. Having co-operated with Nama, he exited in 2014, when his company's €1.8bn loans were sold to US private equity giant Blackstone.

When Blackstone tried to call in his company's loans at short notice, O'Flynn took them to the High Court and won. A consensual deal, which saw the developer regain control of the O'Flynn Group's Irish business, has allowed him to begin again. 

The developer has since secured fresh financial backing and is pressing ahead with numerous residential developments both in Dublin and in his native Cork.

Included in the schemes currently being delivered by O'Flynn Construction in the capital are Rokeby Park in Lucan and Broadlands in Killiney.

Elsewhere in south Dublin, the developer also has plans for the delivery of hundreds of new homes at Beech Park in Cabinteely.

The O'Flynn Group's activity in Cork, meanwhile, will see the delivery of nearly 200 new homes this year.

Gerry Gannon

Gerry Gannon

When the so-called 'man in the hat' gave evidence at the 2014 trial of three former directors of Anglo Irish Bank, he was asked if he had been one of Ireland's biggest property developers in 2008 and if his net worth had approached €1bn.

"Probably, yeah," he replied. Recognised as one of Ireland's most successful and prolific housebuilders, Roscommon-born Gannon's company's €1bn plus in borrowings saw him land in Nama as one of the agency's top 10 most-indebted.

While he has yet to exit Nama, Gannon has been back building since 2014, using finance from the State agency to deliver hundreds of new homes on the massive land banks he assembled in and around north Dublin prior to the crash.

The first of Gannon Homes' new residential schemes, Millers Glen, came to the market in September 2014. The development will ultimately comprise over 1,500 homes.

The developer is also preparing the ground for a scheme of 98 apartments on the site of the former Smurfit paper mills at Clonskeagh in south county Dublin. Outside the capital, Gannon Homes embarked on the sale of 136 new houses at Kinsale Manor, in Kinsale, Co Cork last August.

Joe O'Reilly

When his company's debts were taken over by Nama in 2010, they amounted to €2.8bn, making O'Reilly the biggest and most-indebted developer on the books of the so-called 'bad bank'.

But the sheer quality of assets such as the Dundrum Town Centre, the Pavilions in Swords, the Gaiety Centre on South King Street and offices at Grand Canal Dock saw him secure the agency's support and his business's survival.

Other major assets in the Chartered Land chief's portfolio included substantial holdings in and around Dublin's O'Connell Street, which he assembled between 2004 and 2008 with a view to creating a €1bn retail-led centre.

Last year, Nama sold O'Reilly's major assets to UK property giant Hammerson and insurer Allianz for €1.85bn as part of its 'Project Jewel' sale.

While O'Reilly agreed an option to buy back 50pc of the O’Connell Street site by a June 2017 deadline, in the event, he chose not to exercise it.

Currently, the developer's main focus is on the development of Lansdowne Place, an exclusive scheme of apartments on the site of the former Berkeley Court Hotel in Dublin 4. 

The Cosgraves

Established by brothers Michael, Joe and Peter Cosgrave in 1979, the Cosgrave Property Group has grown through the highs and lows of Ireland's economic fortunes to become one of the biggest players in the Dublin residential and commercial property market.

While the company and its various subsidiaries have been behind some of Dublin's most prominent offices such as the George's Quay scheme formerly occupied by Ulster Bank headquarters, and was invested in prime London properties during the boom, it is probably best known for its delivery of the capital's most-sought-after residential schemes.

Prior to the crash of 2008, the Cosgrave Property Group's developments already included Belville, Morehampton Square and Donnybrook Manor in Donnybrook, The Sweepstakes in Ballsbridge, and Ardilea Wood in Clonskeagh.

With the onset of the financial crisis, the Cosgraves' Irish bank borrowings were transferred along with those of Ireland's other major developers into Nama.

While the Group has yet to exit the agency, it was one of the first Nama-supported entities to return to the development of housing with the launch in 2012 of its Honeypark scheme on the lands formerly occupied by Dún Laoghaire Golf Club in south Dublin.

Since then, the Cosgraves have built and sold hundreds of new houses and apartments. In commercial projects, the Cosgraves  recently completed the €60m Exchange Building in Dublin's IFSC using funding provided by the Irish investment fund, Iput.

Bernard McNamara

Bernard McNamara

At the height of his powers, the blue and yellow sign of McNamara Construction was to be found all across Ireland.

The company's reach was down to the unrivalled ability of its principal - Bernard McNamara - to secure State projects off the back of aggressive tendering and appetite for work, which saw him traverse the country by car, and later, as the boom roared, by helicopter.

With the collapse of the economy, his company's loans were transferred to Nama. He declared bankruptcy in the UK in 2012, with estimated debts of €2.7bn.

Since emerging from insolvency, he has been involved in a number of projects here in Ireland, including the rebuilding of the Denis O'Brien-owned Canada House on Dublin's St Stephen's Green and the expansion of Michael Smurfit's K Club in Kildare.

The developer found himself mired in controversy in 2015, however, over fire-safety deficiencies detected at the Longboat Quay apartments, which his company built in Dublin's docklands during the boom. More recently, McNamara has been involved in the development of a 36-unit housing scheme in Donabate in north county Dublin.

Luke Comer

Luke Comer

The Galway-born Comer and his brother, Brian, left Ireland as teenagers for London in 1984. Plasterers by trade, the Comers managed to avoid the white heat of the Celtic Tiger through shrewd and well-timed investment in the UK and Germany.

They returned to Ireland with a bang after the bubble burst, snapping up prime assets at bargain-basement prices. Their most high-profile purchase came in 2013 with the €22m acquisition of the former UCD veterinary college in Ballsbridge.

The 2.2-acre site had previously been purchased by Glenkerrin Homes chief Ray Grehan in 2005 for €171.5m - a record-breaking €84m an acre.

The Comers have taken full advantage of the Irish economic recovery with the development on the site of Number One Ballsbridge, a high-end offering of offices and apartments.

In recent weeks, the Comer Group secured Avolon, one of world's leading aircraft lessors, as tenants for one of the scheme's three blocks.

Last month, the Comers obtained planning permission for the development of 294 'live-work' apartments in Sandyford in south county Dublin.

Paddy McKillen

Paddy McKillen

Having diversified his interests outside Ireland in 1998 to avoid being hit by the bursting of the property bubble he believed was already forming, the Belfast-born property investor began assembling a portfolio n the UK, France, Germany and further afield in the US, Argentina and Asia. 

McKillen, whose Irish assets include the Jervis Shopping Centre and the College Green premises of US clothing chain Abercrombie & Fitch, blocked efforts by Nama in the Supreme Court in 2011 to take control of his businesses' loans.

A subsequent battle with the billionaire Barclay brothers for control of the famous Claridge's, Berkeley and Connaught hotels saw its final resolution with both the Barclays and McKillen selling their respective stakes to the Qatari-owned Constellation Hotels group.

While McKillen continues to manage the redevelopment of the London hotels, he has also been active in Dublin. McKillen emerged as the successful bidder on a prime 10-acre development site in Blackrock in south county Dublin.

He hopes to develop 300 luxury homes on the Temple Road site for which he is understood to have paid €30m.

Michael Cotter

Michael Cotter

Cotter's Park Developments has been quite literally a household name in Dublin since the early 1980s, with thousands of houses and apartments built in estates across the suburbs of Cabinteely, Carrickmines, Foxrock, Leopardstown, Sandyford, Glasnevin, Castleknock, and at Hanover Quay in the Dublin Docklands.

Cotter also has an array of commercial developments to his name at Carrickmines and Tallaght. While the veteran developer saw his companies' loans transferred into Nama during the crash, his business has emerged in good health, and is once again aiming to deliver on both the residential and commercial front.

Cotter's Viscount Securities was the first company to avail of the Government's heavily-anticipated introduction of a temporary 'fast-track' planning application system for large-scale housing schemes.

Last July, Viscount submitted a pre-application proposal to An Bord Pleanála for a total of 934 new homes at Clay Farm in Leopardstown, south county Dublin. Should it be approved, the scheme would see the delivery of 363 houses and 571 apartments.

Elsewhere in the capital, Mr Cotter is working on the delivery of the Reflector, a 125,000 sq ft office and residential building in the Dublin Docklands. Next week: Meet the New Kids on the Builder's Block

Indo Review

Also in Business