Clerys scion brings new lease of life to forgotten Dublin buildings

Pride of place: 1 Capel Street, which overlooks Grattan Bridge, is one of eight Dublin city properties acquired to date by Danoj Developments

Donal Buckley

Breathing new life into unused old buildings is the aim of Danoj Developments headed by Irish entrepreneur Daniel MacAuliffe, a scion of the Guiney family of Clerys department store fame.

In contrast to most developers who prefer greenfield sites or brownfields, which have the potential for scale developments, Danoj has set its sights on more modest projects which others might consider lost causes.

Already, the firm has acquired eight Dublin inner city properties which it has either refurbished or is in the course of refurbishing.

From the perspective of most developers, their challenges could be summed up in three terms: protected structures, long unused, and unwanted.

Some of Danoj's properties are also being remodelled as 'living-over-the-shop', a solution to the housing shortage which most developers had considered too expensive and unfeasible despite the prototypes on which Dublin City Council lavished time and money almost 20 years ago.

The very fact that old unused protected properties are avoided by most property developers has made these cheaper to buy, and Danoj bought some through Allsop and BidX1 auctions.

Consequently the low purchase price allows Danoj to spend more on refurbishment or redevelopment.

Caomhán Murphy, development director, says that the company could spend as much on the refurbishment of a property as it does on the purchase price.

"You need patience with these types of properties because they can have problems with legal title or because of their preservation orders and they can sometimes take three to five years to get through some of the issues."

"It was almost two years after we agreed a price for 1 Capel St before we closed the sale," he explained.

Located on the landmark corner overlooking Grattan Bridge, the four-storey, over-basement building at 1 Capel Street/1a Lower Ormond Quay was built around 1780 and it featured in one of the famous Malton prints bearing the title, 'View from Capel Street, looking over Essex Bridge, Dublin' and has views across to City Hall and Parliament Street.

James Kelly, of Kelly and Cogan, conservation architect on this project, describes it as an iconic building. "Its upstairs was clearly designed for commercial offices and its features are typical of the simple Scottish style…" rather than the ornate style which features in most Irish Georgian houses.

Commenting on the property, Buildings of Ireland states: "Despite the loss of its original ground floor treatment, the retention of most fenestration, including the Y-tracery sashes, greatly enhances this most prominent corner building overlooking Grattan Bridge, while contributing to the character of both Ormond Quay and Capel Street."

Most of Danoj's properties have more modest histories and locations. All are in Dublin 7 and 8 as Daniel McAuliffe's family lived in the Dorset Street area of the north inner city.

In that area, it has refurbished a four-storey Georgian house in Blessington Street and remodelled it to accommodate two two-bedroom apartments with quality space and proportions. It is currently being rented and it is Danoj's intention to retain their properties as investments.

Near Donore Avenue in Dublin 8, it also remodelled the two-storey 19 Hamilton Street into two apartments.

Yet another challenge encountered by investors who take on these refurbishment types projects is finance. While the pillar banks may be willing to listen to funding applications, they are extremely reluctant to fund such projects partly because of the time it may take to iron out problems.

Danoj's approach is to fund the purchase price from its own resources and seek funding for the refurbishment work. With the help of Seaspray Financial Services, which provides corporate finance and investment management services, Danoj recently secured over €1.3m funding from Lotus Investment Group.

Murphy found that Lotus were able to deal with the issues and had more flexibility than the banks. "If you are organised and ready, you can get the finance deals done," he adds.

Danoj also hopes to avail of the 'Living City Initiative' tax relief which is for the refurbishment of old urban buildings.

The firm's track record also helps. Daniel MacAuliffe has established a range of businesses, primarily in London where he founded the Class1 Group. In Ireland his co-director in Danoj is, Anoj Don, who also brings his experience of the group's London-based construction and investment works.

Its first living-over-the-shop project in Dublin will be seen at the former Muldoons fish shop at 4/5 Main Street, Stoneybatter which had been vacant since 1999. When completed in the coming months, its ground floor will be available for letting as a 100 sq m (1,076 sq ft), 40 to 50-seat restaurant, and its two upper floors will accommodate two apartments.

Danoj is also about to begin work on a mixed-use development comprising three new high-end apartments with a ground floor commercial unit for a café/retail space at 133 James's Street, Dublin 8, which it bought along with 132 James's St, a 200 sq m (2,153 sq ft) terraced office building it has already upgraded and let out. They are located close to the corner of Stephen's Lane and Bow Lane and close to St Patrick's mental health facility and St James's Hospital.

The firm also plans living-over-the-shop style projects for its Ormonde Quay properties including the one at the corner of Capel Street. One of these will accommodate four apartments on the upper floors and a café at ground and basement level.

James Kelly recognises that in the past small developers and investors could be put off the refurbishment of over-the-shop residential projects as they feared these could become "bottomless pits in terms of expenditure". However, he believes that professional developers are no longer as concerned about those issues.

"Structural intervention in existing buildings has changed a lot and even fire safety measures have become much more sophisticated so that there is a much more efficient approach to refurbishment of heritage buildings," he says.

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