Johnny Ronan loses out on €315m Dublin docklands deal

US buyer Cortland walks after city planners challenge Spencer Place building heights

US real estate investor Cortland has withdrawn from a planned €315 million investment in hundreds of apartments being developed by Johnny Ronan's Ronan Group Real Estate (RGRE) in Dublin's north docklands.

Although the company is understood to have remained determined to proceed with its acquisition of the “Spencer Place Residential” portfolio despite the uncertainty being caused by Covid-19, the deal foundered after RGRE was unable to deliver the volume of units it required.

While Cortland had been prepared since its selection as preferred bidder last year to purchase all 550 apartments and co-living spaces Ronan is aiming to build at Spencer Place, that plan was put on hold and ultimately abandoned following repeated legal challenges from Dublin City Council in relation to the scheme’s height.

Only 10 days ago, the High Court overturned a fresh grant of planning permission from An Bord Pleanála to increase the height of two blocks within the development from seven to 11 and 13 storeys respectively.


And last May, in proceedings by Dublin City Council against the board, the court overturned, on consent, an earlier permission granted by the board for the height increases.

In that May ruling, the High Court made consent orders quashing a December 2019 permission by An Bord Pleanála for the height increases and sent the matter back for fresh consideration by it.

Having carried out another appraisal of the scheme, An Bord Pleanála again granted permission which the council, represented by Stephen Dodd SC, again challenged.

After a four-day hearing two weeks ago, Mr Justice Richard Humphreys ruled that he was quashing the board’s permission and would deliver a written judgment at a later stage. The judge added that he would not be remitting the matter to the board for another reconsideration.

Salesforce headquarters

The proposed Spencer Place development is adjacent to Salesforce’s new European headquarter campus, which is under construction. While the US tech giant is set to base up to 3,500 workers at Spencer Dock, that number would have been increased by a further 1,000 had RGRE secured permission to add four floors to the scheme’s main building.

Dublin City Council rejected the company’s third bid to raise the height of Salesforce Tower last April. The developer made the application following the rejection by city planners of its two earlier efforts to raise the building’s height from nine to 11 floors.

In a separate and more positive development, The Irish Times understands that Oaktree is one of a number of parties to have expressed an interest in becoming a joint-venture partner in the European headquarter premises RGRE is developing for Salesforce in the docklands, and for Facebook in Ballsbridge.

The US private equity giant is also understood to be interested in partnering with Ronan on the delivery of the Waterfront South Central scheme, where the developer has plans to build up to 1,000 residential units distributed across two towers rising in height to 40 and 44 storeys respectively.

The news of Oaktree’s potential involvement in the three projects comes just one week after The Irish Times reported that it had joined forces with RGRE as a joint-venture partner for the development of 3,500 homes and up to one million sq ft of office and retail space at the former Irish Glass Bottle (IGB) site in Dublin.

Ronald Quinlan

Ronald Quinlan

Ronald Quinlan is Property Editor of The Irish Times