Nama picks Johnny Ronan and Colony to develop Irish Glass Bottle site

Winning bid for 80% stake in Dublin’s largest vacant plot believed to have exceeded €130m

Nama confirmed on Friday that developer Johnny Ronan and US investment firm Colony Capital have been chosen as preferred bidders for a controlling stake in the former Irish Glass Bottle site in Dublin's Ringsend, once a symbol of Celtic Tiger hubris that is now earmarked to deliver more than 3,500 homes.

It is believed the winning bid from Mr Ronan’s Ronan Group Real Estate (RGRE) and Colony, partners on a number of high-profile commercial property projects in Dublin in recent years, for an 80 per cent stake in the largest vacant plot in the capital exceeded €160 million.

The Irish Times reported on Friday that RGRE and Colony had submitted the top bid for the project to co-develop the 37-acre site, held through a company called Pembroke Ventures. Nama will retain the remaining 20 per cent. The preferred bidders have 30 days to complete the deal.

“Today’s announcement is an important milestone in our strategy for this key site. The competitive process adopted was designed to achieve best financial return in line with the requirements of the Nama Act, and facilitate delivery of much-needed housing for the Dublin market in time,” said Brendan McDonagh, chief executive of Nama.


Tense history

The deal will mean that Nama will have to work closely with a developer with whom it has had a well-documented tense history while he was a debtor of the agency. Nama was set up in 2009 to take over risky commercial property loans from the State’s banks. Colony and another group, M&G, would subsequently back Mr Ronan in repaying his personal loans from the agency in 2015 in full.

Still, Nama subsequently did business with Mr Ronan. In 2016, RGRE and Colony bought a prime site on Spencer Place in Dublin’s north docklands from receivers appointed by Nama. They subsequently paid €180 million in 2018 for another docklands site, called Project Waterfront, from Nama.

Meanwhile, the State-owned bad bank would have had to receive comfort around Colony’s commitment to the Irish Glass Bottle site development in light of the fact that it is currently seeking to sell down other Irish holdings.

Pembroke Ventures owns the key site located within the designated Poolbeg West Strategic Development Zone. It has the potential to deliver up to 3,500 homes, 10 per cent of which would comprise social housing and a further 15 per cent affordable housing. It has also the scope for about 1 million sq ft of offices and shops, as well as a school site and public spaces, according to Nama.

Final bids

Nama, which put the site on the market last year, received four final bids on April 20th. Sources said that the other shortlisted bidders were: Sean Mulryan's Ballymore Group; Dallas-based private equity giant Lone Star's Quintain Ireland housebuilding unit; and Hines, a US real estate group.

Nama had receivers appointed to two separate parts of the 37-acre site between 2011 and 2012 as the respective owners ran into financial trouble.

A company called Becbay, backed by developer Bernard McNamara, property financier Derek Quinlan and State agency the Dublin Docklands Development Authority owned the 25-acre glass bottle land at that time. Becbay acquired the holding in 2006 for €412 million in an Anglo Irish Bank-backed deal.

A company linked to boom-era developer Liam Carroll held the remaining 12 acres.

Joe Brennan

Joe Brennan

Joe Brennan is Markets Correspondent of The Irish Times