Monday 19 March 2018

Crosbie calls lawyers over U2 property deal for dock studio

Developer 'deeply upset' over sale of historic recording studio

The Former U2 studios at Hanover Quay in Dublin
The Former U2 studios at Hanover Quay in Dublin
Harry Crosbie and Bono

Niamh Horan Exclusive

Developer Harry Crosbie is considering legal action over the controverisal sale of U2's landmark recording studio, which is located next door to his home in Dublin's docklands, the Sunday Independent has learned.

Mr Crosbie is said to be "deeply upset" that the sale took place without his knowledge, and he is now seeking legal advice after the Dail's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) last week heard the property was sold in a "secretive fashion".

The developer has a personal attachment to the building, which was sold for just €450,000 to a U2 entity.

The board of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA), who gave the green light for the sale of the building, has been accused of not getting the full value for the landmark property by putting it on the open market.

Mr Crosbie was one of the interested buyers who was excluded from the sale process and has a long-standing connection with the property, which had a door with access to his home from where he ran his business.

News of the impending legal action will come as a shock in Dublin's music and entertainment circles as Mr Crosbie and the band have been close friends for 30 years.

The band recorded some of their best-known albums in the building, which has become a mecca for U2 fans all over the world. Bruce Springsteen, Bob Geldof and Van Morrison are among the music legends who have visited the recording studios.

During last Thursday's PAC hearing, Dublin TD Joe Costello asked the DDDA why the sale was conducted in a "secretive fashion" and why it was not offered to Mr Crosbie, who was the original owner of the warehouse before it was bought by the authority under a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO).

He told DDDA financial advisor John Crawley: "I'm sure everybody around the table here would love to buy that property, which is worth €5m at the present time. It's the site that is valuable, not the actual piece of property itself because it is an old warehouse, but nobody had the option. It wasn't public knowledge.

"Nobody was offered it. But for some reason you decided that this particular band should be the ones who were offered it behind the scenes, no proper procurement policy followed and it was done in a very secretive fashion. Is that how business was done?

"Deals were done behind the scenes. Isn't this what we were trying to get away from all the time?"

Mr Crawley denied the deal was done behind-the-scenes, and insisted the sale was "good practice in exceptional circumstances".

He told the hearing: "We considered all of those issues, but we still looked into our hearts and were comfortable that the right decision had been made, the right process had been followed, that appropriate due diligence had been done."

But PAC chair John McGuinness commented: "You looked into your heart - that's not exactly where you should look when you are selling a property. Your heart has nothing to do with it."

Crosbie and U2 are old friends, who have close connections spanning three decades.

U2 played the first ever gig in The Point - now the 3 Arena - when Crosbie opened the venue in 1988. They also recorded their hit single Desire at the venue when The Point was still a building site. Mr Crosbie has also travelled with the band on several of their world tours.

Mr Crosbie was unavailable to comment this weekend. He is also rumoured to be acting as a consultant for a new 4,000-capacity venue for a foreign hedge fund. And he is working as a consultant to Wexford Co Council to build a sister Vicar Street venue in Gorey in the South East.

Spokespersons for the band were not available for comment this weekend.

This is not the first time that Mr Crosbie has had land he owned taken under CPO.

He was forced to sell Crosbie's Yard - a seven-acre site next to the IFSC - for €5m by the DDDA, who later sold the site to a group of developers for €75m.

Speaking about that case, Yvonne Scannell, Professor of Law in Trinity College Dublin and a European expert in Environmental and Planning Law, this weekend said: "This was wrongly decided. Mr Crosbie's land was acquired for an athletic stadium.

"When it was not used for that he should have been given the option to get it back. Otherwise any public authority could just pick some public purpose to acquire land and the sell it on for a commercial profit.

"That is the effect of that case. The court said it was acquired for urban renewal purpose but anything new in an urban area can be urban renewal. CPO powers are to be used for public purposes only and then only as a last resort. In other countries he could have got his land back."

Sunday Independent

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