ANYONE INTERESTED IN creative spaces in Dublin will have been very disappointed to hear about the closure of Mabos, one of Dublin’s most vibrant projects. Mabos has been located down on Hanover Quay (Grand Canal Dock) for the best part of two years. Despite many ups and downs, the space had overcome many challenges and put on a series of fantastic events as well as providing work space and contributing to the surrounding area. Situated at the heart of the Docklands SDZ and caught up in Nama, Mabos has a lot to tell us about what’s happening in Dublin right now and what the future might hold for the fair city.
The Mabos project emerged out of the Kings of Concrete festival – an annual smorgasbord of urban themed performance and art events. The crew behind Kings of Concrete initially took up residence on Hanover Quay inspired by the possibility of working together on a more permanent basis, and what might emerge from a collective space. With their various skills and individual projects, they have used the space to work from but also to collaborate between themselves as well as with others. In addition, they play host to activities run by external groups such as the B.A.S.E.D collective with their techy themed interactive workshops, skateboarders and graffiti artists.
Mabos has also initiated a number of projects aimed at contributing to the Grand Canal Docks area. The Meitheall project, named after the old Irish term referring to collective cooperation, got together teams of volunteers who would come together for a day to clean up, plant and paint in the neighbourhood.
For Mabos, as their slogan puts it, ‘it’s all about the vibe’. The building itself added to this – a former bicycle factory with that particular feeling associated with post-industrial heritage, the space had a DIY aesthetic without being run down. It was located on a largely abandoned stretch of the Docklands and brought life to the area at weekends and during the evenings.
The building, like so much of our city, got caught up in the property speculation that characterised much of the last twenty years. After the crash, it was reportedly repossessed by Ulster Bank and had the receivers firm Grant Thornton appointed to it. However, as the wheels of development start to turn once again in Dublin 2; the building, which was under a rolling lease, is now slated for development by a fund linked to Nama, Oaktree and Bennett Construction. The SDF is a sub-fund of Targeted Investment Opportunities Plc, who were granted planning permission for 6-8 Hanover Quay (the Mabos building is number 8) in April 2014. They plan to turn the building into commercial office space.
The SDF is owned by three agencies – Oaktree Capital, Bennett Construction and Nama. Oaktree is a ‘global investment management firm focused on alternative markets’. According to Nama it has $78.8 billion in assets under management. Bennett Construction is a local property company. And Nama, of course, needs no introduction.
Since acquisition, Bennett have been managing the property. As of July 2014, however, the lease will no longer be renewed leaving Mabos homeless.
Attracting international financial capital
Like much of what’s happening in the Docklands, this is consistent with Nama’s objective of attracting international financial capital to ‘revive the property market’. NAMA hold substantial assets in the area and are very involved in rebooting real estate all across the Docklands.
Given this context, it’s no surprise that Nama have been cheerleading the Docklands Strategic Development Zone, which encompasses Grand Canal Dock and provides for ‘fast-track planning’ to deliver the ‘risk reduction’ sought by large financial institutions.
What makes this issue all the more appalling, however, is the SDZ might have been an opportunity for Mabos. Under the SDZ, Dublin City Council is designated as the Development Agency and they have accordingly published a Planning Scheme which was approved by An Bord Pleanala in May 2014 (despite local community groups and An Taisce formally recommending rejection of the Scheme). The Scheme has lots to recommend it: it advocates holistic ‘place-making’; it places a strong emphasis on developing Grand Canal Dock as a ‘cultural hub’; and it explicitly sets out as an objective the avoidance of a ‘mono-use office environment’. Sadly these lofty ideals seem to have remained purely aspirational. Mabos is very much consistent with the aims and objectives of the Planning Scheme, particularly the latter’s objective of building on ‘existing cultural assets’, yet such considerations don’t seem to count for much compared to the speculative interests of a global financial institution or Nama’s myopic vision.
A city is something we make together
This will remind many of the case of the Complex Theatre. Located in Smithfield and operating as a thriving theatre in an area suffering from high levels of vacancy, the Complex had the misfortune of finding the building they called home transferred to Nama at some point in 2011. The ‘bad bank’ appointed Savill’s as receivers on the building (which means Savills were responsible for it) and they set about evicting the Complex. The Complex closed in January 2012 and the building has remained vacant ever since. It is a mystery to everyone how closing down a theatre which creates employment and provides a cultural amenity in a neglected area and leaving it vacant for two years has any kind of logic, even the calculating, commercial variety.
Despite all this, or, rather, because of it, let’s hope Mabos is back up and running in the near future. Places like Mabos give us an idea of what this city could be; by opening up urban space to creative, collaborative and (importantly) cheap activities, they remind us that the city is something we make together. If even an iota of that energy could somehow infect Nama, we’d have a lot to look forward to.
Mick Byrne is a post-doctoral scholar at the National Institute of Regional and Spatial Analysis, NUI (Maynooth), and participates in the Provisional University.