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Despite huge losses, docklands dream is not yet sunk

WITHIN the ranks of Ireland's ever-decreasing property circles, they're already calling it 'Namaland'.

Which might not be a bad thing when one considers the prevailing public sentiment towards the Irish Glass Bottle (IGB) site in Ringsend.

The site was sold for €412m at the height of Ireland's property mania to Becbay, a consortium consisting of developer Bernard McNamara, financier Derek Quinlan, and the Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA). The IGB land transaction is now set to cost the State €35m as the DDDA struggles to stay afloat.

The level of distaste towards the project has only been compounded by its associations with Anglo Irish Bank and the bank's disgraced former chairman Sean FitzPatrick. Some €288m of the funding for the IGB purchase came in the form of a loan from the newly-nationalised institution, and at a time when FitzPatrick served on the board of the DDDA.

Anyone could be forgiven for asking why the taxpayer should be asked to come along and clean up the mess.

That Messrs Quinlan and McNamara should be subjected to the public's antipathy over their involvement in the IGB transaction is merely incidental, however, when one considers the other big names in Irish property who were only too willing to take on the former Ardagh glass factory site at the right price.

Indeed, the Sunday Independent has learned that Ballymore Properties chief Sean Mulryan was willing to stump up as much as €375m for the IGB lands just weeks before the Becbay partners got their hands on it.

And the Roscommon-born Mulryan wasn't alone in terms of interest, it appears. The Sunday Independent further understands that 'shycoon', Liam Carroll -- then at the height of his financial powers and a billionaire on paper -- was ready to throw down €367m to get the former Ardagh factory site into his sprawling docklands portfolio.

For Carroll it would have made perfect sense, given that the IGB lands adjoined 12 acres that his company, Fabrizia, had already acquired for the relatively paltry sum of €12m some years earlier.

Last Thursday, however, all three developers' competing offers for the glass bottle site were once and for all recast as historical markers for the last days of the boom, with the publication of the DDDA's 2008 annual report and accounts. According to the DDDA, the land's current value stands at €50m, while its Long Term Economic Value (LTEV) under Nama is estimated to hit the none-too- dizzying height of €62.5m.

Incredibly, it could be worse. When one considers the fact that the 27 acres which make up Custom House Dock in the International Financial Services Centre were valued at zero in November 1986, the IGB site still has some way to fall.

It also has the potential to rise.

Depending on the right political will and some imagination, its 24.9 acres could be redeveloped with a view to providing the "social dividend" to which Green Party Minister for Communications Eamon Ryan referred during the recent Nama debate.

A cursory look at what had been planned -- and what could still be achieved -- for the site reveals a veritable Green vision.

Early-stage design documents prepared for the IGB site, seen by the Sunday Independent, show how developer Bernard McNamara had ambitious plans to deliver what was termed a model of "long-term urban living" previously unseen in Ireland.

From offering apartments big enough to accommodate growing families, useable public space as opposed to landscaped grounds, and onsite school facilities, offices and retail units, the IGB site had the potential to become a self-contained community within walking distance of the capital city. Also planned was the provision of a Docklands Rapid Transport (DRT) service using modern tram-like buses to ferry residents and workers to and from the IGB development to the Point Village on the North docklands, and Westland Row south of the Liffey.

Viewed through the prism of the recession, one could be forgiven for dismissing the plans as yet another example of the kind of broken promises made by private interests to unfortunate first-time buyers, downsizers and would-be landlords during the madness of the boom years.

With the IGB site set to move into public ownership in the near future, however, the State -- through Nama -- could yet deliver on some, if not all, of that promise.

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