Towering ambition, Munster passion and a long-proven New York track record in building skyscrapers and working on Manhattan’s ‘Ground Zero’ rebuild are behind soaring plans for an extraordinary Irish site that’s been dubbed “the key to Cork’s docklands future”, writes Tommy Barker.
That description came yesterday from US-based Kerryman Kevin O’Sullivan, who has emerged as purchaser of the Port of Cork site, which signed yesterday for an unconfirmed figure of about €5m.
It may well now see a landmark development, including a signature or ‘iconic’ tower up to twice the height of the 17-storey Elysian or Liberty Hall, and an overall investment “well north of €100m”.
Site buyer Mr O’Sullivan, a native of Ballinskelligs in Kerry, moved to New York in 1986 with his brother Donal O’Sullivan.
In their 30 years there, they’ve delivered some of that city’s tallest and most challenging buildings, as contractors and developers.
The O’Sullivan brothers’ track record output includes sections of the Ground Zero towers, 9/11 memorial and pools at Manhattan, and the Apple Flagship store also in New York.
They are working on a 77-storey tower in Manhattan.
Now they’ve set their sights on this signature Irish site, aiming to build at its river point a slim, very tall building for hotel and office use, and also integrate cultural/visitor uses such as a working distillery to reprise the site’s long Bonded Warehouse history, as well as boardwalk, boat access and heritage/museum elements.
After several months of exclusive negotiations with Port of Cork, their new Irish company Tower Development Properties yesterday concluded a deal on Cork’s historic Port of Cork site, where the two channels of the River Lee recombine, and which went to the open international market last year, guiding at €7m via Cushman & Wakefield.
The proceeds of the sale, understood to be around €5m, will be used by Port of Cork to facilitate its move downstream from the 200-year-old Custom House, to Ringaskiddy.
Although officially coy on heights and investment values until engaging fully with City Hall planners, it’s likely the brothers hope to build a tower of 30-40 storeys, primarily for international hotel and FDI offices, and may also consider apartments in the mix for people working in the resurgent docklands area.
Tourist, cultural and heritage uses are promised for the existing buildings, which are protected structures, as well as a boardwalk running the full river frontage of the compact, challenging quayside site, with considerable public access, including to a tower-topping restaurant with river and harbour views from an elevation of up to 400ft, reached by an external glass-skinned elevator.
It’s the brothers’ first significant Irish development, and a development of the scale they propose “will put Cork on an international map, and bring jobs to the city”.
“[Over 30 years] I’ve seen the ups and downs of the US economy; this has to happen now for Cork, the city doesn’t want to miss out on another cycle,” Mr O’Sullivan told the Irish Examiner last night.
Lead architect for their just-established Irish firm, Tower Development Properties, is New York firm Ismael Leyva Architects, while a local Cork-based team includes PLM Architects, businessmen Paul Montgomery and Michael Cunningham, Pat Kierans of Dyjaho Marketing, and Ger O’Mahoney of PWC.
Last night, Housing Minister Simon Coveney welcomed news of the deal on the Leeside site which he said would unite other planned developments on the city’s north and south docks. He said the scale of ambition and design “will blow people away, they will create a real ‘wow’ factor and it will prove a real draw to the city and a catalyst and a centrepiece for dockland development”.
Citing Mr O’Sullivan’s proven US track record and development expertise, as well as commitment to come home to build in Ireland, Mr Coveney described the plan as “really credible and a real proposal”.
It would, he noted, need an Environmental Impact Statement and planning approval, getting the balance right between historic buildings and future growth.
This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner.