New office thinking outside the glass box

Progressive enterprises snap up period properties in regional areas for their offices

97 South Mall, Cork, home of the European base of Eventbrite

97 South Mall, Cork, home of the European base of Eventbrite

 

The impact of the coronavirus on how we work has been dramatic and it has thrown the future of the contemporary purpose-built office into question.

Even pre-Covid-19 workers had already begun to think more about their working environment, and where they wanted to spend their productive hours.

Perhaps with this in mind, three forward-thinking enterprises based in regional cities have taken the unusual step of repurposing period buildings for their offices and carrying out the necessary upgrade work.

Not only are these important structures given a new lease of life – and saved from disrepair as they lay idle for many years – they also offer incredible backdrops for the workers and clients within.

97 South Mall Cork
Set along the banks of the Lee with views to City Hall, this limestone building in Cork’s traditional business district has been home to banking, insurance, real estate and law firms over the past century.

Constructed in 1865 the iconic Italianate building, which was home to AIB and The Irish Examiner newspaper in latter years, has now been extensively renovated by JCD Group on behalf of Eventbrite, the global ticketing and event company.

Listed as one of Ireland’s Best Workplaces by Great Places to Work in 2019, Eventbrite has now based its European hub in the landmark Cork building.

“We didn’t explicitly look for a period property when we decided to grow our presence in Cork, but when our property partners JCD Group approached us with this imposing former bank building, we instantly fell in love with it and knew that this was going to be our new home,” says vice president of Europe at Eventbrite, Joel Crouch.

While price is always a factor, “it was not the deciding one”, says Crouch, adding: “We had a realistic, but ambitious timeline to get the Cork office up and running and there was very little room for delay and errors.”

JCD, the privately-owned commercial property development company, had six weeks to transform the building – which had been vacant for over a decade – into a modern office fit for a 21st century digital company.

“That meant installing lifts, cables, telecom systems and server rooms into a period building with protected features, but JCD went over and beyond and delivered on time,” says Crouch.

The spacious interior of the Eventrite building at 97 South Mall, Cork.
The spacious interior of the Eventrite building at 97 South Mall, Cork.

Many local customers appreciate that Eventbrite have given the historic building a new lease of life “and typically clients react with a ‘wow’”.

Given the many trials and tribulations often associated with a renovation, Crouch happily reports that there were no major lows, and the opening of the refurbished building was a real highlight: “Tánaiste Simon Coveney attended, and apparently he had worked in this very building when it was still occupied by The Irish Examiner.” eventbrite.ie

Woodlock House, Portlaw, Co Waterford, now: Irishwoman Jackie Flynn, publisher of International Living – the flagship magazine of Agora Group – was intrinsic to the restoration project. .
Woodlock House, Portlaw, Co Waterford, now: Irishwoman Jackie Flynn, publisher of International Living – the flagship magazine of Agora Group – was intrinsic to the restoration project.

Woodlock House, Portlaw, Co Waterford
Designed by John Skipton Mulvany as a home for the Malcomson family in 1864, this imposing estate house operated as a convent and nursing home in some of its former lives before it was purchased in 2014 for €1.1m by Agora Group.

After a €3.6m refurbishment, overseen by Waterford architect David Smyth and local Tramore contractor Alan Murphy Construction, the house opened its doors in 2016, expanding its operations with an additional 100 new jobs to support the group.

Irishwoman Jackie Flynn, publisher of International Living – the flagship magazine of Agora Group – was intrinsic to the restoration project.

“The founder of the Agora Companies, Bill Bonner, has a great appreciation of period property and so it was natural for us as a company to look for that type of property when it came time to purchase a building to house the businesses,” says Flynn.

The global publishing group has 60 subsidiary and affiliated companies which publish specialised information on a range of topics including retirement, wealth management, equity investments, health, travel and finance.

The group’s international headquarters are located in restored period properties in the Mount Vernon area of Baltimore, a national historic landmark district in Maryland, US, so the choice of Woodlock House here was a natural fit.

“Price was a factor insofar as we wanted value for money, but the added attraction, was the fact that it came with 40 acres of land,” adds Flynn.

The project faced a number of challenges: “It had many components and lots of stakeholders, all of whom were overseas in different time zones. In addition asbestos had to be removed from basement rooms, requiring specialist equipment, while some of the original features had to be reconstructed as later changes jarred with the fabric of the building.”

Woodlock House, Portlaw, Co Waterford. The Agora Group spent €3.6m on a complete refurbishment having bought the property in in 2014 for €1.1m.
Woodlock House, Portlaw, Co Waterford. The Agora Group spent €3.6m on a complete refurbishment having bought the property in in 2014 for €1.1m.

The project experienced setbacks too due to a “frustrating delay in the purchasing process”, and Flynn cites many sleepless nights when at one point the company was unsure if it could secure a strong enough broadband connection for the building.

But now, she says: “it is a very special place to work, in a space that is conducive to creativity as you are surrounded by nature and a beautifully restored interior, and visitors are envious of the tranquillity of our workspace”.

woodlockhouse.com

Ludgate Hub dating from 1941 was an old cinema and bakery before becoming a technological hub in Skibbereen
Ludgate Hub dating from 1941 was an old cinema and bakery before becoming a technological hub in Skibbereen

Ludgate Hub Skibbereen, Co Cork
The story of Ludgate Hub, a technology centre in West Cork which was a former cinema dating from 1941, is evocative of the wonderful Irish term meitheal; where a community comes together for the greater good.

The centre takes its name from local man Percy Ludgate, an Irish amateur scientist who designed the second analytical engine (general-purpose Turing-complete computer) in history.

When residents of Skibbereen heard of Vodafone plans to establish 50 towns around the country with 1 gigabit broadband, they came together “to stop the exodus of people from West Cork” according to business development manager Sharon Keohane.

They approached Anne O’Leary, chief executive of Vodafone, and “eventually got it over the line”. O’Leary, who has links to West Cork, now sits on the board, as does Sean O’Donnell, former chief executive of Glen Dimplex who funded the conferencing system in the building.

The interior of Ludgate Hub, which has grown to provide 146 jobs locally in Skibbereen, West Cork. Photograph: Emma Jervis Photography
The interior of Ludgate Hub, which has grown to provide 146 jobs locally in Skibbereen, West Cork. Photograph: Emma Jervis Photography

The old 1941 cinema had been used as a bakery by local man John Field who owns the town’s SuperValu. After lying idle for a few years Field – who also sits on the board – donated the building to the project.

Such has been the success of the initiative that the hub – which has grown to provide 146 jobs locally – is now expanding and the town is in the process of repurposing a second building.

Currently the Ludgate Hub accommodates two digital media companies and two Dublin-based companies, including an aviation company that has outsourced remote working to the hub. Xsellco, a specialist in ecommerce is also based there as are two start-ups; Travel Master, and online video production company Stori Creative.

Keohane says raising the upper floor – to accommodate the IT infrastructure – was probably the biggest challenge when converting the former cinema to a technology hub. For her the impact of the new centre on the demographic of the town has been a highlight of the project.

She also sees an opportunity in new ways to work during the current health crisis: “We are redefining how we work during these difficult times, and we at Ludgate have been working this way for several years now. Not all business needs to happen in urban areas, and the benefits of flexible working for business, employees and the environment is immeasurable.”

ludgate.ie

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