THE implosion of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority last week, as it revealed massive losses over ill-conceived and badly timed property investments brings some of the massive construction projects and schemes during the last of the boom years into sharp focus.

Whether it was downright lunacy or misguided optimism, developers, bankers and empire-builders charged headlong into some of the most deluded and inappropriate projects ever to be seen in Ireland. These included the vast empty ghost estates on the peripheries of Dublin and in the midlands, huge docklands redevelopment schemes, enormous hotels in the middle of nowhere and the glut of retail parks without shoppers.

Irish Glass Bottle

The Irish Glass Bottle deal was the property equivalent of dipping dumbo in a big bucket of bleach. It is the whitest of white elephants.

In 2006 a consortium including Derek Quinlan, Bernard McNamara and the semi-state Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA) ploughed €412m into buying a chunk of land in Ringsend from Paul Coulson's South Wharf. The plan was to build thousands of apartments, retail units, offices, hotels and a 15-storey tower block. Then the world suddenly caved in.

Property values tanked and thanks to the DDDA, the taxpayer is on the hook for the losses, with the value of the site written down by 88 per cent. The DDDA has written down all of its property assets by €186m and will need to be bailed out by the State.

Belmayne, Coolock

Ireland's biggest new housing estate, Belmayne, was launched at the peak of the property market in September 2006. The timing of this €1.2bn development couldn't have been worse.

Under the original plan, described at the time as Dublin's "most exciting new development for many years", up to 2,650 houses and apartments were to be built by the end of 2010. So far, only about 600 properties have been built. Most recent reports suggest that just over 370 of these have been sold.

There is no sign of the much-touted Dart station set to be within walking distance of Belmayne -- the station was expected to open this year. Three-bedroom homes in Belmayne which initially sold for up to €460,000 are now selling for about €289,000.

"We sold over 20 apartments in Belmayne this year," said Gerard Carr of Hooke & MacDonald, one of the estate agents for the development. "A few years ago, you would have sold that in a weekend."

The building contractor which built some properties in Belmayne, LM Developments, went into receivership earlier this month.

Cork Docklands

The €4bn redevelopment of Cork's rather unpleasant docklands was set to be the biggest thing since the construction of the IFSC in Dublin.

Howard Holdings €1bn Atlantic Quarter was to be one of the tentpole attractions of the plan, which was to have three vast plectrum-shaped apartment blocks, a huge conference and event centre, 550,000sq ft of offices and the ubiquitous four-star hotel.

Despite planning permission being granted over the summer, the project has hit serious speedbumps.

Like most other property developers, the Brendan Murtagh-controlled Howard Holdings is being squeezed by the banks, with EBS launching a lawsuit seeking the return of €26m.

A government decision to defer a €2.3m grant to kickstart construction of a key bridge has also raised questions over the future of the scheme.

Jurys and the Berkeley Court

Was it the worst property deal in Irish history since Strongbow was offered a plot of land? There are plenty of contenders. But Sean Dunne's €380m purchase of the Jurys Doyle and Berkeley Court sites in Ballsbridge was certainly the most high-profile deal.

Dunne's plans initially included a 37-storey tower block. But despite fundamental changes, the planners and Dublin city councillors zapped the scheme. Jurys is still operating as a hotel. Bizarrely, a supermarket was opened on the site.

Earlier this month Dunne wrote down the value of his Berkeley court site by €35m -- representing a near 30 per cent haircut. God knows what the Jurys site is worth.

Parkway Valley shopping centre

Construction on Liam Carroll's ambitious €150m Parkway Valley shopping centre in Limerick has been on hold for about a year now.

Parkway Valley was to be developed by Carroll's Dunloe Ewart and originally promised to open next year with Tesco and Penneys as the key anchors. In an early property brochure, it is described as "the largest shopping scheme in Limerick" and holding the "largest Tesco in Ireland".

About 78 shops and restaurants were planned for the centre, along with over 2,000 car park spaces. However, as it is not yet built, no shops have been able to open there.

The wisdom of the plan was questioned by one local developer who described Limerick as "overshopped".

Citymart, Kilkenny

Another ambitious shopping development planned during the boom which appears to have been stopped in its tracks is the €300m Citymart in Kilkenny.

Planning difficulties have stalled the development, which included plans for a mix of 25 shops, restaurants, offices, cinema, medical centre, hotel, 54 apartments and over 1,000 car-parking spaces.

Plans for the shopping centre, which was to be built on about 14 acres of land, have been on hold for over two years now. Last month, An Bord Pleanala rejected planning for the development.

Many of the retail parks which popped up during the boom are struggling. Gulliver's Retail Park and Liffey Valley Retail Park in Dublin, the M1 Drogheda Retail Park in Louth, and the Blackwater Retail Park in Navan, Co Meath, are among the parks making aggressive losses.

Carrig Glas, Longford

The then finance minister, Brian Cowen, turned the sod on this development when it was launched in summer 2006. At the time, it was described as "the most important developments ever to take place in Longford" and "one of the most significant developments for the Irish tourist industry".

The €160m scheme was to include a four-star 96-bedroom hotel, a golf course and about 300 homes. Prices for the "luxury tax-designated homes" started from €345,000. However, about two years after its launch, the owners of the development, Thomas Kearns Developments, went bust.

Construction has since stalled and only a fraction of the houses have been built. With its owner in liquidation, the future of the development looks grim.

Anglo Irish Bank HQ

Even Santa is likely to give Seanie Fitz's house a wide berth this year, as the Anglo fallout continues and the carnage at the Docklands Development Authority unfolds.

The unfinished skeleton of Anglo's proposed €50m headquarters in the heart of Dublin's Docklands is a highly visible reminder of the excesses of the boom. The office block developed by zombified tycoon Liam Carroll is now thought to be worth around €5m.

Anglo Irish Bank is believed to have lent up to €48m to Carroll to buy the site and develop the office block. Both Carroll and Anglo are in the financial knackers' yard.

Kilternan Hotel and Country Club

Former publican Hugh O'Regan bit off far more than he could chew when trying to redevelop the Dublin Sports Hotel in Kilternan. Irish Nationwide appointed a receiver to the project last month. It is thought work will continue to finish the project.

Part of O'Regan's €180m scheme was to include a hotel, theatre, conference centre and major "global innovation campus" -- about a zillion miles away from major infrastructure. Other than the 44 bus.

O'Regan bought the hotel from philanthropist Chuck Feeney, who had picked it up from the late Pat Quinn, founder of Quinnsworth. That two such high-profile and successful business people had flipped it on so quickly should have been a bit of a signal.

Leitrim holiday homes

Many of the holiday homes which sprang up in Leitrim towns like Carrick-on-Shannon and Dromod during the boom years were driven by tax breaks. A glut of these properties have not sold and are lying empty.

Many investors who snapped up Leitrim properties on the back of tax breaks can't get their tax relief because they can't rent the houses out.

"A lot of the property developments which were driven by tax breaks occurred in areas where there was low economic activity -- the intent being to stimulate such activity," says Aidan Byrne, tax partner with business advisers, Baker Tilly Ryan Glennon.

"However, if the investment could not work in the absence of the tax break on those properties, the general consensus now is that the investment didn't make sense. You now have developers sitting on assets in some of these more rural developments that will not be sold for a considerable amount of time -- if ever."

The Elysian

The €150m Elysian opened in Cork in September 2008 -- the same month we all found out that Ireland was officially in recession. Although the 17-storey tower now holds the title of Ireland's tallest residential building, it has struggled to woo buyers for its 211 luxury apartments.

With initial price tags for its apartments starting at €375,000 (and climbing as high as €2m for its triplex penthouses), this is no surprise in the current climate.

A spokesman for the developers, O'Flynn Construction, would not divulge how many of the apartments have been sold so far. However, reports suggest that less than 40 units have been bought and only a handful of people live there.

"The timing wasn't the best," said the spokesman. "But the Elysian has been doing well."

A local developer said, "Cork people don't have an appetite for such apartments."

Louise McBride and Nick Webb

Sunday Independent 29.11.09


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