Disappointment and regret as Digital Hub in Dublin’s Liberties to be dissolved

Hub has been home to more than 200 companies since it was established in 2003

The Digital Hub claims to be the largest cluster for digital companies in the State. Photograph: Aidan Crawley/The Irish Times

The Digital Hub claims to be the largest cluster for digital companies in the State. Photograph: Aidan Crawley/The Irish Times

 

Dublin’s Digital Hub, home to 31 technology companies, is to be shut down and redeveloped for social and affordable housing by the Land Development Agency (LDA).

Chief executive of the Digital Hub Development Agency (DHDA) Fiach Mac Conghail criticised what he described as the Government’s decision to “abolish” the Digital Hub, but committed to an “orderly transfer of ownership” to the LDA.

The Department of Communications, headed by Minister Eamon Ryan, said the DHDA was “no longer required”.

It said the redevelopment by the LDA of the 5.6 acres off Thomas Street in the Liberties would be “a transformative project for Dublin, with the potential for significant housing supply in a centrally-located area, as well as potential for other community uses”.

It said the LDA would prepare a plan for development of the site “and will engage with the local community and other stakeholders on other potential civic and community uses in addition to housing”.

In a statement the LDA said it would be delivering a “mixed-use but residential led scheme” that would provide “affordable and social housing, creating sustainable new homes and integrating them with the existing, established community”.

It has not yet been determined what, if any, proportion of the site would be retained for enterprises in the new development.

The DHDA had “played a key role in the early days of Dublin’s development as a tech hub” but it was “no longer required in order to sustain the continued growth of the sector”, the department said.

‘Regrettable’ decision

Mr Mac Conghail, a former Abbey Theatre director, and Paul Holden, the chairman of the DHDA both said the decision to dissolve the agency was disappointing and regrettable.

“I am disappointed by the Government’s decision to abolish The Digital Hub and regret that the Minister and the Department didn’t share our vision for creating a sustainable urban quarter in the Liberties,” Mr Mac Conghail said.

Mr Holden said the board of the Digital Hub had been “surprised to learn” the agency was to be dissolved, and was “extremely disappointed that our ambition to build an enterprise cluster focused on e-health, climate action and other significant social and economic challenges, rooted in the local community, was not shared”, he said.

“We will endeavour to ensure the smooth transfer of responsibilities and the continuation of the regeneration activity in Dublin 8,” he added.

The Digital Hub, was established in 2003 following the demise of Media Lab Europe. More than 200 companies have passed through its doors including some now well-established companies such as Stripe and Amazon.

The move to dissolve the agency comes less than a year after it warned of the need for emergency funding from the State due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on its finances, although this is not believed to have been relevant to the Government’s decision. It also comes as property values in the area have risen in recent years and after the previous operators of the NDRC start-up accelerator, which was based in the hub, lost the contract to run the programme.

Campus buildings

The hub occupies 10 buildings of which nine are in use. More than 50 per cent of the campus has been developed with 72,000 sq ft of lettable office space currently in use.

The hub offers flexible office arrangements and business support services to growing tech companies and is also involved in providing digital-related learning and training opportunities geared to the local community.

The Digital Hub will remain open for client companies and maintain its existing community programmes until at least the end of June 2022.

The agency received State funding of €795,000 per annum. In 2018, the last year for which accounts are publicly available, it recorded revenues of €4.2 million, of which €3.3 million was from rent.