Dublin's Central Plaza with the "best view" of the city is to be rented out

Dublin’s Central Plaza with the “best view” of the city is to be rented out

“It’s probably the best view of the city,” says Brian Moran. The senior managing director in Ireland of property investment group Hines sits on the 10th floor roof terrace of Central Plaza, the former headquarters of the Central Bank on Dame Street.

It’s a wet and blustery day but the uninterrupted views of all four sides of Dublin city are stunning and should prove a major draw once the restaurant, which operates from within the impressive glass roof, opens in the coming months.

Houston, Texas-based Hines and Hong Kong-based real estate investment firm Peterson Group acquired the distinctive Sam Stephenson-designed building and adjacent land on College Green in 2017 for an alleged €67 million.

They’ve spent the meantime planning a new future for the campus to create a mix of offices, retail and hospitality areas. The buildings have been stripped down to their bare bones and carefully modernized to appeal to office workers, shoppers and guests.

After previous delays, the Central Plaza was due to open last year, but Covid lockdown restrictions and problems with the supply of microchips and other materials pushed it back another 12 months.

“A year ago we would have been done. It’s a year of lost revenue and added overhead,” says Moran. He adds that these are between 8 and 10 million euros in additional costs, plus lost income.

The mix in the newly renovated complex includes offices (60 percent), restaurants (25 percent) and retail (15 percent). According to Moran, it is currently 88 percent leased with some key units still to be decided.

Number 2 Central Plaza, on the ground floor of Dame Street, has been renovated to create two large retail units, but Moran has held them back for the time being. “Large retail stores were not the trend of the month [post-pandemic]. This has been withheld until we open the whole place.

“We have received all sorts of offers, but nothing that really excites us about the type of use. It could be a really strong retailer or a food and beverage offering. When that opens, someone might come by and say, “Let’s do this.” We didn’t want to put anyone there who didn’t complement the program.”

A number of leading brands have already signed on the dotted line, including burger group BuJo, Gino’s Gelato and newcomer to the Irish market Las Iguanas. The unit of popular donut maker Krispy Kreme quickly takes shape as we make our way through the complex.

Some of the long stairways leading into the former central bank headquarters have been removed and now steps below street level lead to a sunken space where you can dine or have a drink. An elevator takes guests to the rooftop restaurant, where three different food concepts are being planned by its Dubai-based operator, Zafar Shah.

Step off the elevator and you’ll be greeted by a host with a bar area where you can relax before dinner. Walk up a few steps and you are on the outside terrace with spectacular views on all four sides. Back inside, customers climb a few more steps to dine. The height of the dining room means the view from inside isn’t interrupted by people milling around the terrace enjoying the view.

For the time being, the space remains a shell of concrete and steel awaiting furnishing. The fire protection regulations mean that a maximum of 500 people may enter the almost 1,600 square meter roof area at the same time. “We believe this experience will become an important part of people’s visit to Dublin,” says Moran.

Was this part of the building considered as a residential area due to its spectacular location? Hines is involved in housing projects in other parts of the city. Moran says the reality is commercial and food and beverage would “probably fetch double the rent” for the space.

“This is more of a commercial building and you would be dealing with major fire safety issues. Also, this is a unique place and given its height in the city center it would be a shame not to let the public up here and make it an attraction and something special for the city. That was our plan from the start,” he says.

We Work, the global co-working company listed on the New York Stock Exchange, has acquired seven floors of office space in One Central Plaza (what we knew as the Central Bank’s main building), which it will sublet to tenants. It was signed before the pandemic and before hybrid working became established here. Despite the home office trend, Moran is confident about the future of the office and believes We Work’s business model is ideal for the location.

“Ultimately, the office is a place for collaboration and a place for mentoring. A location like this works phenomenally well due to the local communities and transport links. Based on the demand for office space of this quality in this location, we could have rented the space three times as much, I would say. The idea of ​​the flexible workplace will now be part of the portfolio for companies.”

Moran says We Work is “excited to jump in here and start outfitting later this month.” “I have a feeling they’ll have their tenants here by the beginning of the new year,” he says.

According to Moran, the construction costs amount to around 100 million euros if you add fees and other taxes. He expects Hines to keep it in his portfolio until “stabilization,” when it’s fully leased and operational. This is probably a year away. “Let the place stabilize and then it will be up for sale,” he says. “The plan was always to sell it.”

Due to Covid delays and other issues, Moran suggests Central Plaza might ultimately just wash its face in terms of a return for its owners.

“We want a value-added return. I think to be honest we will not achieve everything we set out to do due to Covid complications. Ourselves and Peterson are two big companies, so we won’t lose our lives for not making this a great achievement in our portfolio. But from our point of view it is important to do it right, to set a quality standard, not to shy away from any detail.

“I have a strong belief that if we get a foothold, the right retailers will win…long term, this investment will make sense for the next owner.” We’re big enough to absorb the speed bumps. The main thing now is to finish it right, make it a perfect building and then move on to the next one and leave a legacy.”

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