From the north fringe to the East End
(The Irish Times Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) The Big Developers: Sean Mulryan's Ballymore holds its own in Ireland, as well as building in Bratislava and Prague, and its huge land bank in London puts it in prime position to capitalise on the Olympics, writes Frank McDonald , Environment Editor
Sean Mulryan, who owns and runs Ballymore Properties, is reaching for the sky. Three years ago, Ballymore was marketing 29-storey Ontario Tower in London's docklands as the city's tallest residential building. But it is now breaking this record with Pan Peninsula - two towers of 40 and 50 storeys containing 762 apartments.
Within walking distance of Canary Wharf, both developments were designed for Mulryan by international architects Skidmore Owings and Merrill (SOM). Ontario Tower has an iconic quality, with its neon-lit elliptical top, and the 260 apartments share a health spa, gym and swimming pool with the adjoining eight-storey Radisson hotel.
Pan Peninsula will be even more opulent, with a private cinema, 24-hour concierge, a holistic fitness centre, a "signature restaurant" on the waterside and a cocktail bar on the 50th floor for residents and guests - in line with mayor Ken Livingstone's policy of providing public access to the tops of tall buildings in London.
When sales opened in November 2005, viewers were taken out by motor launch to the marketing suite - a glass box in Millwall Dock with full-scale show apartments. More than 165 apartments were booked by the end of the day at prices ranging from GBP230,000 (330,000) to GBP1.6 million (2.3 million), mainly by bonus-rich bankers and lawyers seeking city pads.
Small studios of 30 sq m (323sq ft) - nothing more than a pied--terre, however cleverly designed - could be purchased for GBP230,000 (330,000). A year later, the sale of a vast 2,400 sq m (25,833 sq ft) penthouse on the 50th floor for GBP7 million (10.05 million) broke records for the docklands area, putting it on a par with more exclusive parts of London.
'THE PLACE TO live above all others" is the marketing slogan for this scheme, and its scale is markedly different to all the toytown stuff built on the Isle of Dogs in the late 1980s. But there is a downside: the Docklands Light Railway screeches noisily as it turns a corner on its elevated trackbed right alongside the north tower. No shops are included in Pan Peninsula or in New Providence Wharf, where Ontario Tower is located, so residents must go to the shopping mall at Canary Wharf, or to Asda at Millwall Dock. But there are great views of the Millennium Dome (now called the O2) directly across the Thames from the tower and New Providence's swirling block of flats.
Ballymore's apartments in the British capital have been snapped up by canny Irish investors since it started building there in 1992. Fuelled by the city's property boom, early schemes such as Millennium Harbour, launched in 1998, saw values rise by up to 100 per cent in five years, though this scheme by architects CZWG is rather dull.
Roscommon-born Mulryan, who started out as a stonemason, set up Ballymore Properties in 1982; the company's name derived from its first housing scheme in Ballymore Eustace, Co Kildare.
Mulryan has 33 projects worth around 17 billion planned in Britain, as well as major schemes in central Europe. These include the development of a 35-acre riverside district in Bratislava and a key site on Wenceslas Square in Prague, and a number of significant housing developments at home such as Pelletstown, near Ashtown in Dublin, and the "north fringe", which stretches from Baldoyle to Ballymun.
BALLYMORE IS NOW one of the largest landowners in London's docklands, second only to Quintain and Lend Lease's 200 acres on Greenwich Peninsula, which includes the infamous Dome. Projects in the pipeline include Baltimore Wharf, another residential development at Millwall Dock, and Arrowhead, an office scheme near Canary Wharf.
The company is also active in Birmingham, where its Snow Hill scheme in the heart of the city will include 55,000 sq m (592,000 sq ft) of offices, a 44-storey tower containing 332 apartments and a 170-bedroom hotel with bars, restaurants and retail units laid out around five new public spaces. The architects here are Sidell Gibson and Glenn Howells.
Even more ambitious is the Eurovea International Trade Centre in Bratislava. The first phase, involving an investment of 270 million, will provide the Slovak capital with its largest retail, leisure and entertainment complex as well as 23,000 sq m (247,570 sq ft) of offices, 250 apartments and a five-star Sheraton hotel with more than 200 bedrooms.
In 2003, based largely on its track record in London's docklands, Ballymore won the prize of developing Eurovea on the site of Bratislava's redundant riverside port on the Danube, close to the city's historic core. Irish architectural practice Murray O'Laoire is involved in designing the complex, along with SOM, Bose International and the Slovak architectural firm Respekt.
On Wenceslas Square, Prague's main boulevard, Ballymore is developing 60,000 sq m (646,835 sq ft) of offices, apartments and retail units.
And in Budapest, it has its sights on developing another shopping centre, office complex, leisure facilities and housing, to be built on a large site close to the city's main railway station and parliament. Ballymore paid the Hungarian state railway company more than 13 million for the 20-acre site in 2003 and then had to fight claims by a local property company that it had a "pre-emption right" to acquire it for the same price; it regarded this as "the last desperate actions of a local real estate company, which lost the site in a public auction".
A similar legal challenge was launched by disgruntled Czech investors after Markland Holdings - jointly owned by Mulryan and Paddy Kelly, of Kelland Homes - bought Kotva, Prague's Communist-era department store, for 50 million in March 2005. The investors were seeking to recoup money which they lost in a deal involving the store.
On a much smaller scale, Mulryan's development of villas, townhouses and apartments in a village layout in Statenicky Mlyn, on the outskirts of Prague, won praise for its lavish fit-outs compared to most new housing in the Czech Republic. As expected, this scheme appealed to its target market: successful local business people and expats.
IN IRELAND, BALLYMORE has been involved in major commercial developments, notably the Whitewater shopping centre in Newbridge, Co Kildare (in partnership with Sean Dunne as Zapi Properties), as well as huge housing schemes in Greystones, Co Wicklow, and Pelletstown, where it has worked closely with Joe O'Reilly's Castlethorn group.
Whitewater was conceived in 2000 as a "mass market fashion centre" that would appeal to shoppers in a wide catchment area, from Meath to Waterford, in competition with Blanchardstown, Liffey Valley and The Square in Tallaght. With a name half-borrowed from Bluewater in Kent, it was built on an eight-acre site, once occupied by Irish Ropes.
Opened in April 2006, the centre contains 32,000 sq m (344,445 sq ft) of retail space, with Debenhams, Marks & Spencer and H&M as the anchor tenants, backed up by the likes of A
Wear, River Island and Zara. It also has a 500-seat food court and parking for 1,700 cars, but there is no sign of a promised multiplex cinema, much to the anger of local people.
Mulryan and Dunne also got together to pursue plans for up to 1,500 apartments and houses on a 108-acre site at Charlesland, at the southern end of Greystones. To open up the area for new housing, they joined with other developers in making an offer to build an interchange on the N11 at Kilpedder and a new bypass for Delgany. Zapi Properties provided a 20-acre site for playing fields and, last December, agreed to provide sites for a range of community facilities, including a school, Garda station and enterprise centre, in return for Wicklow County Council rezoning part of the Charlesland site for yet more housing and a money-spinning district shopping centre.
In Bray, Ballymore has been markedly slow in developing another shopping centre and multi-storey car park on Florence Road. Though it got full planning permission to go ahead in 1998, the acquisition of adjoining properties meant lodging revised plans for the 9,000 sq m (96,875 sq ft) Florentine Centre, and these were finally approved last April.
Ballymore is working side-by-side with Castlethorn to develop what planners hope will be exemplary housing schemes with a good mix of amenities and community facilities at Pelletstown, where residents will be well served by public transport, with a commuter rail station at each end of this elongated development area near Ashtown.
Mulryan is also active on the north fringe, in and around the former Baldoyle racecourse site. Veteran property developer John Byrne had assembled some 500 acres in the area, but failed to get it rezoned and then sold an option on the land to Pennine Holdings, in which lobbyist Frank Dunlop had an interest; he later sold that interest to Mulryan for GBP1 million.
He bought the land for about GBP30 million in the mid-1990s, and managed to achieve what had previously seemed impossible - to have it rezoned for housing, on the basis that the Dart had been extended to Malahide and the area was now well served by public transport. In 2004, he sold a 50 per cent stake to Menolly Homes for 95 million.
BUT IT IS on London, and Bratislava, that Mulryan's attention is focused. He was personally involved in the campaign to bag the 2012 Olympic Games for London and joined in the jubilation that greeted its success in July 2005. Ballymore was also among the organisers of a major exhibition showing the scale of projects planned to cater for it.
This was not a disinterested gesture; as one of the major landowners in the docklands, close to where the Olympics will be staged in the East End, Ballymore stands to benefit. The company's landbank would have the scope to provide up to 15,000 apartments as well as commercial, retail and leisure facilities before the games get under way.
Copyright 2007 Irish Times Ltd. , Source: The Financial Times Limited
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