Lansdowne Place – The High Life

View towards the Aviva Stadium from the sunroom of one of the show apartments at Lansdowne Place.

By Alexander Kearney

On a bright afternoon in late October I find myself with a few minutes to spare wandering down Lansdowne road towards the corner of Shelbourne road.

I have an appointment to view the marketing suite of Lansdowne Place, a luxury development of some 215 apartments, but I’m struck by the reality of the development as it currently stands.

It’s an enormous building site set behind a line of mature trees. The concrete frames of the pavilions have yet to be fully sheathed in brick, glass, and smooth stone. The interiors are months from completion, and therefore still a tantalising dream for prospective buyers. I am about to be sold that dream.

I am greeted in the lobby of the marketing suite by Liam Guerin, the future General Manager of Lansdowne Place. He is a trim, elegantly dressed man who projects an alert but unstudied charm.

Guerin is best known to locals as the long-time manager of one of D4’s most successful institutions, Roly’s Bistro. His appointment to play a similar but expanded role here represents something of a coup for the developer, Chartered Land. Though many luxury apartment schemes wish to sell you a lifestyle, Lansdowne Place is perhaps the first in Ireland to try to mould and curate that lifestyle.

To this end, dedicated reception rooms have been planned with a 24-hour concierge service. Here residents and their guests will be able to avail of a lounge, library, meeting area, private cinema, and hospitality spaces.

A lower floor will include a gym, sauna, steam and treatment rooms, but, surprisingly, no swimming pool (one of the few luxuries apparently deemed not worth the bother).

All of the above will be covered by an annual charge of around €5,000, depending on apartment size, but the key to its smooth running will doubtless be Guerin. He clearly relishes the broad potential in this role, though its precise parameters and responsibilities have still to be defined. The first test will be managing the demands and expectations of the residents as they arrive and settle in.

There is something in this enterprise that calls to mind a concentrated social experiment, albeit one whose subjects are financially privileged. The closest model perhaps is not that of a gated community, though the development will undoubtedly be highly secure, but of a luxury hotel where residents can establish a permanent home. This seems especially appropriate given the scheme has been constructed on the site of the old Berkeley Court hotel. Exemplary service is, after all, what the very wealthy expect.

Lansdowne Place is also set apart by the prices it has already been able to command for its vision of 21st century high living. In Spring 2017, the Executive Chairman of Green Property Reit, Stephen Vernon, paid in the region of €5m for a 314 square metre four-bedroom penthouse with study and terraces, a record price for an Irish apartment.

That figure was soundly beaten later the same year, when an unnamed Irish businessman paid €6.5m for a 529 sqm penthouse with a roof garden in an adjacent block. However, even those prices are set to be eclipsed by the release of a mammoth 715 sqm four-bed penthouse with extensive terracing for €7.5m. That price and those dimensions suggest something closer to a mansion.

At the more modest end of the scale (comparatively speaking) are one-bed apartments priced from €800,000, two-bed apartments from €925,000, and a two-bed penthouse from €2.25m. As of November 2018, some 75% of the apartments released have already been sold, with the overwhelming majority going to Irish buyers from home and abroad. So far, a Brexit-effect has been notable only by its absence

Yet, elsewhere a very different kind of absence has been achieved through some careful planning and design. Under Part V of the amended Planning and Development Act, 2000, developers are required to provide a minimum 10% social housing when building a residential scheme above a certain size. However, they may negotiate with the local planning authority to locate those units off-site, a route preferred by a number of luxury developers throughout the city.

As reported in the Irish Times, Chartered Land acquired a block of 53 apartments at Shelbourne Plaza, Ringsend, and sold these to the Council for €24.5 million, while making an additional financial contribution to the Council of €2.7 million to fulfil its obligations under the act.

Deputy Chief Executive, Brendan Kenny (Housing and Community) acknowledged that this was, “the first and probably the most extreme example” of such an arrangement, but justified it on grounds of pragmatism: the Ringsend apartments were, “more suitable” for social housing residents, and in any case these units would be, “easier to manage as they’re in one block.”

Nonetheless, there is something faintly unnerving about this kind of administrative calculus, with its implicit assumption that those coming from different places on the Irish economic spectrum cannot be brought together to live on one site. In practice, it is a policy driven by developers determined to preserve the exclusivity of their most desirable developments.

In the property market, selling a ‘lifestyle’ means exercising the freedom to exclude those who are significantly less well-off. In Lansdowne Place that freedom is total.

After an engaging chat with Liam Guerin, during which neither of us mentioned social housing or Part V, I am shown several apartments on the upper floors of the marketing wing. These are generous two and three-bed show units, with interiors furnished by London-based designers, Goddard Littlefair, in a palette of warm tones and finishes chosen to soothe and reassure prospective buyers.

Again, one has the vague sense of viewing a catalogue of rooms from a luxury hotel. There is something poignant too in the knowledge that all these lavishly appointed spaces, including the marble and wood-panelled reception area, must be destroyed to make way for the completion of the scheme. They will have performed their supporting and cameo role, and sold the dream. I am assured all the materials and fittings will be re-used elsewhere in the complex.

Lansdowne Place is a remarkable testament to the recent recovery in the Irish economy, or its recovery for those with significant means. The site had been the occasion of Seán Dunne’s most spectacular gamble on the Dublin property market. Dunne gambled and lost (see our feature on pages 14 and 15), but his failure arguably owed more to bad timing and hubris, than to overestimating the allure of this prime D4 location.

The astonishing apartment prices achieved in the past year seem to confirm that much. Yet Lansdowne Place is financially a very different beast compared to Dunne’s bank loan-fuelled folly. Here the project is backed by the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), the principal sovereign wealth fund for the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, with estimated assets of over US$800 billion.

ADIA appointed Chartered Land to be its development and investment managers for the scheme, not with a view to taking a wild punt but to making a strategic investment. The commodity being sold is an exclusive, aspirational lifestyle, but the financial calculation behind it is cold, hard, and deliberate. Dublin’s luxury property market has come of age.