Docklands project brings Ballymore back to centre stage

Group launches €700 million Dublin Landings as it prepares to exit Nama

 

Cue the Thin Lizzy music: Ballymore is back in town. The launch yesterday of the Dublin Landings development in the north docks marks the Irish property group’s return to commercial building in the capital, after six years working on projects in London and restructuring its bank debts with the National Asset Management Agency.

A green carpet led visitors into the glitzy launch at the CHQ building in the International Financial Services Centre, with a jolly man in top hat and tails offering a friendly welcome.

People milled around the impressive scale model of the million-square-foot office and residential development, which will have a gross value of €700 million.

The seven-acre site was acquired by Oxley Holdings from Nama in a sale process known as Project Wave. The listed Singapore company is funding its development with Seán Mulryan’s Ballymore as the property developer, with a profit-share element to its involvement.

The plan is to deliver, over the next five years, about 65,000sq m (700,000sq ft) of grade-A office space in five buildings, 273 apartments, some retail, a “boutique” hotel and a gym.

Oxley and Ballymore got to know each other by working together on the Royal Wharf site in London, a large, mixed-use project that the Singapore company had acquired from Mulryan.

NTMA

Ironically, the first tenant to sign up for Dublin Landings was the National Treasury Management Agency, under whose umbrella Nama operates. It’s taking 83,000sq ft of space.

Speaking to The Irish Times, John Mulryan, a son of the company’s founder Seán Mulryan, recalled how having its €2.1 billion debts moved to Nama actually allowed the business to get moving again.

“One of the problems that we had between 2008 and 2010 was that there was so much uncertainty,” he said. “Eighty per cent of our lending was with Irish banks and getting decisions made actually only really happened when we moved into Nama. People can say what they like about Nama but at least we had somebody who could make a decision.

“At the start we began by finishing out some developments that we had previously worked on for Irish clients. That got into bigger things and they [Nama] supported us on a number of very successful projects in London.

“They provided us with working capital to build out a number of projects. Most of that is now repaid because that lending was at the early stages [of the crash].”

Mulryan declined to comment on the amount of working capital provided by Nama but said it was a “substantial amount”.

After more than six years in Nama, Ballymore it is now on the cusp of exiting the State agency. “We’re finishing a number of projects at the moment. So it’s really a question of construction timing now, and we’re certainly within months of exiting. We’re aiming for this year but it depends how construction works. It could slip a little bit.”

Mulryan said Ballymore’s relationship with Nama was helped by the fact that his father was “willing to accept his position” following the economy’s collapse in late 2008.

“We didn’t have any silly arguments about selling racehorses or whatever. Our business approach is not to fight with anyone. We try to get on, and try and work with people. The approach from our side was that ‘We’re here and we want to do business with you and make it work’. It was difficult in terms of the circumstances . . . but genuinely I think Nama have really great people.”

Fresh start

While Ballymore has been building houses in the greater Dublin area in recent times, Dublin Landings marks a fresh start in terms of commercial work here.

“This is a hugely important project. It’s a whole city block. It is special in terms of sitting on the Liffey and sitting on the Luas line. We saw it as a great opportunity and we’re fortunate to have great partners in Oxley.

“One of the benefits of Oxley is that they have huge financial strength but being a developer as well they also understand risk. Sometimes when you’re working with financial sector partners that can be slightly more challenging.”

To date, Oxley has funded the project from its own resources but its executive chairman and chief executive Ching Chiat Kwong said it would look at bringing in bank finance to the project, possibly from overseas.

“The aspiration is now that there will be some bank lending involved but that’s not procured yet,” Mulryan said.

With work on the first offices under way, Mulryan said Ballymore would begin looking at the residential element in 2017. This will involve a mix of apartment types, with prices yet to be decided.

“This is not about creating super-luxury apartments, it’s about trying to have good-quality apartments. The idea is that the people who work in the office buildings should be able to afford them.”

What is the family’s ambition for Ballymore over the next five years?

“We had a big business in Europe and we’ve been pulling back from there,” Mulryan said, adding that the plan was to simplify the company’s operating structure by focusing on the Dublin area and the UK. “We’ve quite a big operation in Birmingham and we’re doing an big office scheme there at the moment of about 400,000 square feet with M&G Real Estate.”

Closer to home, Ballymore would be interested in the former Irish Glass Bottle site in Ringsend, which is under the control of Nama and has been earmarked for about 3,000 homes.

“It’s definitely of interest to us. We see that as a incredible opportunity. It hasn’t come to market yet but it’s something we’d be very interested in.”

Spread the word around, Ballymore is back in town.