Property developer Liam Carroll dies aged 70

Media-shy tycoon built 9,000 apartments across Dublin between 1980s and 2006

Former property developer Liam Carroll has died. One of Ireland's most prolific and successful builders in the lead-up to and during the Celtic Tiger era, he passed away peacefully in Dublin aged 70 on Tuesday.

A native of Dundalk and a mechanical engineer by profession, Mr Carroll was best known as the head of Zoe Developments, a group of companies which was the main driving force behind the construction of upwards of 9,000 new apartments in Dublin city centre and its surrounds from the late 1980s up until 2006.

Dubbed the “shoebox king” because of his delivery early on of thousands of one-bedroom apartments in schemes ranged across numerous locations including Arran Quay, Mountjoy Square, Dorset Street and Brunswick Street, the media-averse tycoon later upped the quality of his group’s offering considerably.

Departing from his time-honoured practice of designing schemes himself on the basis that architects were "only interested in designing penthouses for fellows with Mercs", Mr Carroll engaged the services of architects O'Mahoney Pike to help him produce landmark residential developments such as the 16-storey Millennium Tower at Charlotte Quay and the Gasworks on Barrow Street in Dublin's south docklands.

Outside of his massive impact on, and contribution to, the capital’s residential stock, Mr Carroll was involved during the boom in many of the capital’s highest-profile commercial and residential plans.

But while his assets were valued at about €5 billion against debts of €3 billion at the height of his career, he eschewed the champagne lifestyle pursued by numerous other boom-era developers.

Safety breaches

Mr Carroll’s work as a developer also made the headlines for the wrong reasons. In 1997, Mr Justice Peter Kelly closed the Zoe Developments site at Charlotte Quay, Ringsend Road, in Dublin. A building worker had died on the site two weeks previously and the judge heard that 13 breaches of health and safety regulations had been noted there.

The judge said Mr Carroll’s companies were “not entitled to make profits on the blood and lives of its workers” adding that the developer was a “a disgrace to the construction industry” and should be ashamed of himself.

Referring to the company, the judge said: “This defendant that you are responsible for is a criminal, and a recidivist criminal at that, and is so thanks to you.”

Mr Carroll offered to pay £100,000 to charity to demonstrate his “contrition” for consistent breaches of health and safety regulations.

Modest lifestyle

Even as his empire mopped up vast swathes of the city and its suburbs, he continued to dress casually, drove a modest car and lived quietly with his family in a relatively ordinary house in Mount Merrion.

In the lead-up to the financial crash of 2008 and the subsequent implosion of his property empire one year later, Mr Carroll had been engaged in the delivery of a new headquarters for Anglo Irish Bank at North Wall Quay in Dublin's north docklands. When the bubble burst, the building's exoskeleton stood for several years as a defining symbol of Ireland's economic collapse before being acquired by the Central Bank of Ireland for its new headquarters.

Elsewhere in the docklands, he was one of a number of parties who competed in 2006 for ownership of the former Irish Glass Bottle (IGB) site in Ringsend. While the Zoe Group chief's offer of €367 million for the 25-acre holding was easily surpassed by the Bernard McNamara-led Becbay Consortium's winning bid of €412 million, he would have drawn significant comfort from the fact that his company Fabrizia had paid just €12 million in 2000 to acquire the adjoining 12-acre site.

In 2005, Mr Carroll was among several developers who entered the fray in the battle for control of the Jurys Doyle Hotel Group. The acquisition of the group by the Doyle family was hotly contested by Mr Carroll, Sean Dunne, Quinlan Private, Precinct Investments and Paddy Kelly, and coincided with Dunne's purchases of Jurys Hotel and the Berkeley Court Hotel in Ballsbridge for €275 million and €119 million respectively.

Kingmaker

In 2008, Mr Carroll was touted briefly as a "kingmaker" in Ryanair's €1.8 billion takeover bid for Aer Lingus, when he raised his stake in the then national carrier to 4.7 per cent. While speculation abounded in relation to the developer's motivation on that occasion, his investments in ferry operator Irish Continental Group (ICG) and Greencore were more readily identifiable as potential property plays.

In 2002, he outgunned fellow developer and solicitor Noel Smyth in the fight for listed company Dunloe Ewart. The deal itself proved to be lucrative. More importantly, however, it gave him control of 400 acres of development land at Cherrywood in south Dublin.

While Mr Carroll would lose control of the site in the crash, his success in luring Dell to locate its campus there in 2004 arguably sowed the seeds for the €2 billion suburban town US real estate giant Hines and other developers are delivering there today.

Liam Carroll is survived by his wife Róisín; children Nuala, Bróna and Conor; and his brothers Colman and Lance.

Ronald Quinlan

Ronald Quinlan

Ronald Quinlan is Acting Property Editor of The Irish Times

READ MORE