Despite oppostion, Harry Crosbie ‘determined’ to develop kiosks at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre

Businessman and wife granted permission in May to convert structures in Dublin’s docklands into coffee bar and flower shop

Harry Crosbie: 'When they [the kiosks] are lit up and trading, they will enhance the square.' Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Businessman Harry Crosbie says he is “absolutely determined” to develop two kiosks at the front of the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin, after the theatre’s operator Crownway Entertainment launched a High Court challenge against his plans.

Crosbie and his wife Rita were granted planning permission by Dublin City Council in May to convert the mesh-clad kiosks into a coffee bar and a flower shop. Their plans had been opposed by the nearby five-star Marker Hotel, by the commercial property owner Iput, which has an office block on Grand Canal Square, and by Prof Martha Schartwz, the square’s designer.

Crownway claimed the proposal would reduce safety standards for users of the square and the theatre by limiting ventilation and emergency access from the basement car park. Both the theatre operators and Iput have now applied for a judicial review against the council’s decision to grant permission.

What are the key challenges when attracting new investment here?

Listen | 50:49

Reacting to the news, Mr Crosbie said: “If it’s the last thing I do, I will get these kiosks open. These steel structures, as designed, are causing serious antisocial behaviour at night, because the area is dark and forbidding. When they are lit up and trading, they will enhance the square and allow people, particularly women, to feel safe crossing it at night.

READ MORE

“They are dreadful-looking things at the moment. You have to imagine what they are going to look like. We would take off that horrible steel, glaze them and light them up. One would be a flower shop, with baskets of flowers all around the outside, and the other would be a beautiful little champagne and coffee bar. I don’t understand what the problem is with these people [objectors].”

Crosbie opened the theatre on Grand Canal Square in 2010, with €80 million spent on development costs, but lost control of it after his loans were transferred to the National Asset Management Agency. Crownway, a private investment company owned by John and Bernie Gallagher, bought the theatre in 2014 for €29 million.

Litigation costs

Fastwell Ltd, a Crosbie family company, was given permission by the High Court in 2018 to carry out works on the kiosks in accordance with planning permission. That followed a six-day court dispute with OCL Capital, then owners of the basement car park, over the precise terms of a lease between them. Judge Tony O’Connor advised both sides to “engage in an effective manner” over the row, noting that the costs of litigation would far outweigh the value of the kiosks.

A second court action began in late 2018, however, with Fastwell suing Calibrate Real Estate, its new landlord, over the alleged termination of a lease. During those proceedings, Crosbie opposed an effort to refer the dispute to the Commercial Court, arguing that the kiosks were the size of a “garden shed” and well below that court’s €1 million threshold.

By the time that was resolved the original planning permission granted in 2015 had expired, and the Crosbies had to reapply, which they did last year. Despite the objections, Dublin City Council’s planner recommended that permission be given for the change of use to retail, saying that Fastwell had addressed its concerns.

John Burns

John Burns

John Burns is a contributor to The Irish Times