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'Baron of Ballsbridge' returns


LOOKING TO THE FUTURE: Sean Dunne and his wife Gayle Killilea

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE: Sean Dunne and his wife Gayle Killilea

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE: Sean Dunne and his wife Gayle Killilea

BUILDERS at work on the site of the former Jurys hotel in Ballsbridge -- it's not something anyone thought they'd see any time soon given the state of the economy.

Incredulous passersby were left rubbing their eyes last week, however, as members of the long lost breakfast roll brigade started work inside the lobby and on the roof of the landmark hotel, which is now known as the D4 Ballsbridge Inn.

Even Sean Dunne -- the man the media dubbed the 'Baron of Ballsbridge' -- was in attendance, albeit at something of a remove in the adjacent D4 Berkeley, where he held court for much of the week, meeting up with a number of close associates.

While the Carlow-born developer was unwilling to make any comment on his business when contacted by the Sunday Independent, it is believed that he has been looking at fresh opportunities in the UK, the US (where he and his wife Gayle are now based), and somewhat surprisingly, here in Ireland.

The renovation works currently being carried out at the D4 Ballsbridge Inn are understood to be part of a programme designed to keep the hotel in pristine condition up until the eventual arrival of the wrecking ball, and subsequent redevelopment of the seven-acre site for which Mr Dunne famously paid a total of €379m at the height of the boom.

Having fought against a succession of objections from local residents over the past six years, the Mountbrook chief finally secured planning permission last September.

The permission granted by An Bord Pleanala includes the demolition of the old hotels, operating as D4Hotels, and the construction of 490 apartments in 11 blocks ranging in height from six to 12 storeys. A 151-bedroom hotel, a restaurant, cafe, bars, creche and healthcare facility are also planned.

Commenting then on his intentions for the Ballsbridge site, Mr Dunne conceded that it would be at least five years before any work started.

Reflecting on the difficulties now besetting the property sector and the country more generally, he thanked his banks for continuing to support his Ballsbridge interests which, according to commercial property experts, have plummeted in value to just €50m.

"I would like to thank our customers of D4Hotels and our funders Ulster Bank, ACC Bank and Kaupthing Singer Friedlander who have been most supportive of the D4 Hotels' operations and planning process in extremely difficult times for bankers, investors and the public," he said.

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While times may well be difficult, turnover at MJBCH, the group that controls the D4 Hotels, has almost doubled from €6.6m to €12.9m according to the latest accounts which cover the year ended July 2009. Profits for the period amounted to €2.3m, the accounts state.

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