The offer by Bray’s retail may become the long-awaited boost for the Florentine site, as the plans may be much closer to implementation. The information about the offer was provided by Grainne Rothery.
The site of 0.97 hectares had been bought by Ballymore Properties in parts for 10 years in the mid-1990s. The estimated price paid for the territory was €53m.
There were many project applications for the area until An Bord Pleanala offered an amazing idea in 2007. It was a scheme that included 550 car parking places, 84 homes, and about 8,000 sq. metres of retailing places.
However, the work on the project didn’t start even to this day, and the area is currently used as a huge parking lot.
About 3 years ago the project was bought from Grant Thornton for €1.95 million by Bray town council.
In July of this year, the planning application was sent to An Bord Pleanala to revise the scheme and adapt it to being used for retail, leisure space, offices, and 256 parking places.
The total development size, including a new pedestrianised street and central plaza, and the car parking area, is about 23,000 sq metres. The commercial letting space includes two anchor stores, four retail units, four restaurants and a six-screen multiplex cinema. A decision from An Bord Pleanala is due by January 12.
The council has appointed Savills to identify a development partner. The aim is to have the partner and a contractor in place by March 2017 with a view to completing the entire project by the end of 2018.
It is understood that the cost of construction would be about €24m.
Larry Brennan, director of retail at Savills, said that “deliverability” was the priority in finding the right partner.
“Key to this is somebody who can step in and deliver,” he said. “Experience is going to be vital, and retailer relationships may also be part of it.”
Just a couple of weeks into the campaign, there has been strong interest, he said.
“We’ve had approaches from a wide spectrum of parties — people with all types of development experience. And some are looking to provide capital into the scheme as well.”
The timing has proved crucial, Brennan said. “This is one of the first retail schemes, and certainly one of the first self-contained standalone retail developments, that’s been talked of in Ireland since the crash. As a result it’s got very significant interest here, across the water in the UK, and beyond.”
At the moment all options and configurations are being considered, he added.
“Nothing gets ruled in or out. That’s why we’re in this process where we’re looking for expressions of interest. If that means somebody comes in and says they want to buy the site and buy out the interest up front, that’s one thing that can be considered.
“If somebody wants to come in and fund the development, and give Wicklow county council a slice of income going forward, that’s another way of looking at it,” said Brennan.
From the town’s perspective, the site’s development is considered crucial for rejuvenating the main street and attracting new retailers, particularly fashion brands.
While vacancy levels are not too bad at the moment, the retail mix is poor and the main street lacks high-fashion and large brand names, with a few notable exceptions. Bray chamber of commerce president Mick Glynn described the street as having an unusual mix, with a high proportion of financial institutions and mobile phone shops.
Des O’Brien, Bray town manager and director of services at Wicklow county council’s planning department, said it was vital that the site finally became developed. “Bray is not as vigorous as it was 30 years ago,” he said. “It’s suffering retail-wise, and that’s mainly because of a shortage of women’s fashion.”
One of the barriers to attracting fashion retailers is the size of the units; typically, shops on the main street are 110 sq metres or smaller. “The big players need around 400 sq metres,” said Glynn.
“With the Florentine centre, it will be the first time that size of property will be available on the market in the centre of the town.”
There has been good interest from potential occupiers, Brennan said. “As part of our role we’ve certainly market-tested the scheme and we’ve done demand assessment. And, since the adverts were placed and the press releases ran in mid-November, we’ve had further approaches from other retailers looking to have their interest represented as part of the development.”
However, several retailers that were associated with the original project are understood to have ruled themselves out, including Penneys and Marks & Spencer. One Bray retailer said there had been talk of Aldi, Lidl and Heatons as potential tenants.
“If a Heatons and a Lidl are moving in, I don’t know if the other traders in the town will feel it’s going to help them,” he said.
According to Brennan, the development will not be dependent on having a large anchor store.
“The design is such that there is large-format space in the scheme, but that space is quite adaptable in terms of how it can be split. We can have 2,000 sq metre units as opposed to one major, major draw. We don’t want to be beholden to one retailer.”
Sharon Walsh, divisional director of retail property at HWBC, believes the scheme will work if the right balance of space is struck between the different offerings.
“I see demand being more from the food and beverage side than retail,” she said. “I do believe the retail will be mass-market, and that to me is Heatons, TK Maxx and those kinds of retailers.”
Gabriel Dooley, of Dooley Auctioneers, who was involved in putting the site together for Ballymore, said he was not convinced by the current offering in the planning application. “I think it should have been anchor-driven and not the other way around,” he said.
“It’s one of the best sites in south Dublin, and the planning it got in 2007 was an excellent planning and they should have gone with it.”
Rory Benville, a former president of Bray chamber, was more optimistic than before that the site would get developed. “The hesitation I have about it is that there’s no residential aspect to the site, which I think is not a good decision. There is an opportunity there to revitalise the town centre.”
However, O’Brien said the cinema and food elements of the scheme would liven up the main street and be particularly good for the night-time economy.
Speaking about the proposed centre in general, he said: “We’re confident it will bring a different footfall into Bray and a bit of vitality to the main street.”