Bids approach €40m for Dublin's former City Arts Centre

Johnny Ronan's Ronan Group Real Estate, Marlet and RQ Two among those vying for Dublin docklands site

The City Arts Centre has lain dormant since 2003. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

The City Arts Centre has lain dormant since 2003. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

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The sale of the former City Arts Centre on Dublin’s City Quay has seen strong interest from a number of the country’s biggest developers. Having been brought to the market at a guide price of €35 million, the property which has lain dormant for the past 18 years is understood to have attracted bids of up to €40 million.

Developer Simon Kelly’s RQTwo, Johnny Ronan's Ronan Group Real Estate (RGRE), Pat Crean’s Marlet Property Group, US real estate giant Hines, and a partnership involving Derek McGrath’s Core Capital and David Kennan’s KC Capital, are understood to be among the parties to have submitted offers for the last remaining waterfront site in the city’s docklands.

A computer-generated image of the scheme proposed in a feasibility study for the City Arts Centre site
A computer-generated image of the scheme proposed in a feasibility study for the City Arts Centre site

While little has happened with the property since it was last sold in 2003 for €4.2 million to a consortium of developers including Paddy Kelly and the McCormack family’s investment vehicle Alanis Capital, the area surrounding the building and the 0.22 hectare (0.55 acre) plot it sits on has been transformed. Today, the plot is flanked on either side by the recently-developed eight-storey (10,960sq m/118,000sq ft) headquarters of Grant Thornton at 13-18 City Quay and Irish Life’s newly-redeveloped 1GQ office complex at George’s Quay.

Located at the southern end of the Talbot Memorial Bridge, the City Arts Centre site is zoned Z5 in the current Dublin City Development Plan (2016-2022), which permits a broad range of uses including office, residential or hotel development, or a combination thereof.

A feasibility study drawn up by RKD Architects in preparation for the site’s sale by Savills suggests it could accommodate a 145,000sq ft (net) office development, subject to planning permission.

While the provisions of the current George’s Quay Local Area Plan (LAP) allow for buildings of between six and nine storeys on the site, the prospective purchaser could seek permission for a higher structure by referring to the urban development and building heights guidelines for planning authorities issued by former minister for housing Eoghan Murphy in December 2018.

According to these, local authorities may assess permissible building heights on a qualitative basis, rather than by the prescriptive limitations in development plans or local area plans.

Receiver Ken Tyrrell of PwC is seeking to dispose of the former City Arts Centre site on behalf of Dengrove DAC, a vehicle of US investment firm Colony Capital.

Colony’s interest in the property comes via its acquisition for €455 million in 2017 of Nama’s €1.5 billion Project Tolka loan book. The transaction saw Colony take control of loans mainly linked to developers Paddy Kelly and the late John Flynn, and the McCormack family, who control the property investment vehicle Alanis.