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Dublin: 1 °C Monday 18 November, 2019
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"It's tough against faceless power on that level" - cultural groups fight losing battle with Nama

Office development in The Docklands could force out a blossoming cultural scene that took hold during the downturn.

Dublin Skylines Source: Sam Boal

CULTURAL GROUPS IN Dublin’s Docklands claim that they’re being forced from their homes by Nama’s plans to develop office space in the docks.

Mabos, a shared cultural and artistic space on Hanover Quay, packed up this week after failing to secure a lease extension on a property that is to be developed as office space by a body in which Nama has a shareholding.

Director Dave Smith says that the move throws Nama’s commitments to retain the character of the area into doubt. The Docklands attracted several artistic bodies and cultural entrepreneurs during the downturn.

188206_344451642332845_44471213_n Mabos interior Source: Mabos via Facebook

“Ultimately the result of it will be seen when you have nothing but one-dimensional office space.”

Read: Pathway to ‘Dublin’s Canary Wharf’ – Nama’s €3 billion property play

The company behind the planing application for the Mabos building is Targeted Investment Opportunities (TIO).

TIO in turn runs the South Docks Fund, a joint venture between Nama, Oaktree Asset Management and prominent domestic property developer Bennett Construction. Nama is a 16.5% shareholder in TIO.

The objective of the fund, according to Michael Noonan, is to “generate capital growth over the longer term by developing, managing and realising property assets on development sites in the Dublin Docklands”.

TIO landed planning permission in April to develop a 4,500 square metre office block on the Mabos site in the Docklands.

A letter was issued shortly afterwards informing Mabos that it must vacate the premises, a process that was completed yesterday.

Opinion: Is the effort to ‘revive the property market’ pushing creative groups out of the Docklands?

When asked about the issue, Nama said that while it is a minority investor in TIO, it does not control or manage the entity or the property.

Cultural commitment

Nama announced major development plans for the Docklands last week, with Noonan saying that the area will be transformed into ‘Ireland’s Canary Wharf’ under the agency’s stewardship.

NAMA'S Annual Reports Michael Noonan with Nama chairman Frank Daly (L) and chief executive Brendan McDonagh Source: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

However, many in the Docklands fear that the commitment to retain cultural outlets in won’t be adhered to.

Colin Harris is a neighbour of Mabos – he runs Surfdock, a watersports centre with activities in Grand Canal Dock.

“All these things have developed as social amenities. They managed to spring up in the downtime, and as things get better they could be trampled on.”

Harris is afraid that his company, which currently operates out of portacabins in the Docklands, could fall by the wayside.

They might want to, and they may aspire to these things, but there’s no way of enforcing it.

“There’s no security for us now. You try to find out if there is something there, but nobody cares.”

Smith agrees: “Everyone is scrapping for survival but it’s tough when you’re against faceless power on that level.”

Good Sunny Weather Heatwaves Watersports in Grand Canal Dock Source: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

The commitment to encourage artistic and cultural presences in The Docklands will hinge on what people in power want, he argues.

“You’ve got people in the City Council who are really committed to it, but they don’t have power because they don’t own the land.”

Harris says that it may not be in the nature of Nama to be concerned with the cultural character of the Docklands.

Nama’s remit is to generate as much of a return as it can with no recourse to social provision. There’s nothing in the DNA of Nama for that.

Social cost

The upshot of evicting bodies like Mabos, Smith says, is to dismantle the work they have done in what he describes as a “diverse and complicated neighbourhood”, where corporate wealth exists alongside areas of social deprivation.

Barbecues, clean up days and public art exhibitions organised by Mabos helped bring the professional and residential communities together, he says.

“Underlying the whole project was the social initiative linking neighbours and neighbourhoods.”

There’s a darkness now in this place, and it has the potential to be something so special and so unique.

Read: Nama’s transformation from the world’s biggest landowner to Ireland’s biggest landlord>

Read: ‘One community’ approach for Dublin Docklands future>

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About the author:

Jack Horgan-Jones

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