Thursday 15 November 2018

The Liberties leading latest wave in Dublin's revival

An artist’s impression showing the aerial view of the proposed St James Quarter scheme
An artist’s impression showing the aerial view of the proposed St James Quarter scheme

Donal Buckley

At last the huge upsurge in commercial property development in Dublin is beginning to ripple into a long-decaying former heartland of Dublin business, The Liberties.

That ripple, which is in part due to the area's tourist attractions, is expected to accelerate thanks not alone to wider residential and commercial demand but also to two key projects - the National Children's Hospital and Diageo's St James Quarter (SJQ) on its Guinness site.

An artist’s impression of the proposed St James Quarter scheme
An artist’s impression of the proposed St James Quarter scheme

Located between Patrick St and James Hospital and between the Liffey and Tenters on Clanbrassil St, the last census showed The Liberties as home to as many as 23,000 people. Over the next few years, its residents are about to be joined by thousands of tourists as well as thousands of students.

In response to tourist demand, an area up to now bereft of hotels will see three new hotels open in the coming months, with about 600 bedrooms.

In June, a new 138-bedroom Maldron Hotel will offer views of the new curvy glass menagerie Garda Station on Kevin St. A new Aloft Hotel at Blackpitts and the Hodson Bay's Sheraton Hotel at The Coombe will bring a further 460 rooms to the area later in the year.

Meanwhile, Pat Crean's Marlet Property Group has begun work on the old Grand Canal Harbour mixed-use project to the south of St James's Hospital, which will include a 200 bedroom aparthotel.

An artist’s impression of the proposed St James Quarter scheme
An artist’s impression of the proposed St James Quarter scheme

Other hotels in the pipeline include a 260-bed aparthotel for which Anthony Byrne recently received An Bord Pleanala approval as part of his 10,000 sq m Tivoli Square project on Francis St. Harry Crosbie is expected to reactivate his planning permission for a hotel at nearby Vicar St, while Newmarket Partnership plans a 239-bedroom hotel in its mixed-use Newmarket Square project.

Diageo is also expected to include a hotel on its 12.6 acre SJQ site for which it is currently seeking a development partner.

Martin Keane's Iveagh Market redevelopment plans also includes a hotel, but that's another story.

Then there are student residential projects which Stephen Coyne, programme manager for the city council's Liberties Business Area Improvement Initiative, says could accommodate as many as 3,000 students.

Two of these projects have already opened and one of them, the Binary Hub with 471 beds, has been traded on by one American investor, Oaktree, to another, Hines. The second already open is owned by GSA and operated under the Uninest brand. It offers 400 beds on Mill St and the investor will open another nearby to be known as Tannery, with 300 beds, this summer. Also due to open this summer is Hattington Student Accommodation's 257-bed project branded as Highlight on Thomas St.

Permission has also been granted for three other student projects: Summix is to develop Brewery Block at the Watkins Site with 349 beds; Crosslane is to build a 232-bed project at Carman's Hall; and Greenhearts is to develop a 308-bed scheme as part of a mixed use development at Brickfield Lane.

Cairn Homes's plans for a 399-bed project at the Donnelly Centre, off Cork St, are currently under appeal with An Bord Pleanala.

Yet more signs that the area is attracting more affluent consumers are two heritage projects underway with Oakmount, the development company headed by Paddy McKillen Jr and Matt Ryan.

One of these at 61/62 Thomas St will accommodate a 4,000 sq ft bar and restaurant on the ground floor, with 20,000 sq ft of offices overhead.

Oakmount's 55 Fumbally project will include 34 apartments, a restaurant and 24,000 sq ft of offices in a stone-cut listed building. Oakmount's projects also reflect growing demand for upmarket food and beverage services emanating from the thousands of visitors.

But the question arises - will these consumers travel to nearby Temple Bar to eat and drink or will Temple Bar move to them? Or will the council's planners facilitate plans which will see a mix of residents and visitors create a new Liberties ambience just as the Huguenot craftsmen and manufacturers did when seeking religious liberty there in the 17th century?

The response to that question may be provided by how Diageo will design its SJQ site, which will occupy a pivotal position between Temple Bar and the much-expanded St James's Hospital medical campus.

SJQ could seek to take advantage of its existing tourist traffic, as in 2017 its Storehouse saw visitors soar by 100,000 to over 1.7 million. Meanwhile, its Guinness Enterprise Centre, which accommodates many small businesses, is expected to double its size.

Diageo has promised that SJQ will provide a mixed-use urban quarter with residential, office and commercial space but even more importantly it will make the Liberties more permeable by creating public spaces and streets.

Demand for Diageo's commercial property could be underpinned by health care businesses which are expected to spin off from the new children's hospital. Meanwhile, demand for residential will be generated by the hospital's key workers as well as the hundreds of house hunters who last year pushed up prices in Dublin 8 by as much as 15pc and are expected to increase them by 9pc this year.

One of the new projects to respond to such demand will be Marlet's Grand Canal Harbour project, which is expected to amend its existing planning permission so that a portion of the planned office space will be redirected to increase the number of residential units from its existing planned 31 apartments.

This could see Marlet pare back its planned office space to about 100,000 sq ft, with a similar floor area for medical uses.

Other offices are nearing completion at 140 Thomas St and nearby another new office development is also expected on the former IAWS site facing James's Gate. Como Lake Ltd has permission for about 75,000 sq ft of offices at Donore Avenue, while Newmarket Partnership's project includes about 200,000 sq ft of offices, 92 apartments, an indoor market, as well as retail space.

Peter Finnegan of Dublin City Council summed up the challenge for the city: "Strategically, Dublin needs the Liberties as a counterpoint to the Silicon Docks. In this historic quarter of Dublin, ideas flourished and innovation thrived. Our vision is to build on the innovation that exists so that this part of Dublin can be a world centre of excellence in innovation, health and well-being."

However, the council may also need to direct more developers towards residential accommodation, not alone for transients but also for long-term residents.

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