The Digital Hub Development Agency (DHDA) has revived plans to develop some of the land near its current site, with a new tender process inviting property firms to build residential, commercial and public spaces.
The process of accepting bids to develop two sites of 5.5 acres either side of Thomas Street in the Liberties area of Dublin began yesterday, based on a plan prepared by the DHDA and the Office of Public Works (OPW). Tenders must be submitted by 18 November and the winning bids will be announced prior to Christmas or early in the New Year.
Rather than just selling the sites purely for money, the Digital Hub will also receive office space in part exchange from the winning bidder or bidders. This space will be used to house companies based in the hub. Occupancy at the current site is almost full, with 55 companies employing close to 400 people in a range of activities from games software development, mobile technology, animation and TV production.
Many of these businesses expect to take on more staff and will need room grow in the near future, said Stephen Brennan, director of marketing and strategy with the DHDA. “We have 11 or 12 companies that need to grow by 50pc in the next six months.”
A further seven acres on the same site has so far laid dormant but it is hoped that the new development phase will kick-start this process. The terms and conditions of the final contract will contain provisions for a certain mix of developments, combining office space with retail facilities and public amenities. It’s also hoped that the building will take place on a phased basis, allowing hub tenant companies to occupy offices in a shorter timeframe.
Brennan emphasised that the new sites were not for sale as such. “We’re trying to form a partnership, effectively, between ourselves and whoever has the best offer,” he told siliconrepublic.com. That offer will be based around value for money, he added; bids with a commitment to developing the area quickly, offering the most office space back to the DHDA and with appropriate developments for the location around it will be looked on favourably.
The agency hopes that competition among builders will drive the value of the deal upwards but it maintained that the minimum target for the development would be enough to meet its own requirements. “We feel confident that we can reach larger targets than we set,” said Brennan. Separate tenders are being sought for each site and while it is possible that a single company might bid for both, it is unlikely that they would win, he suggested.
Brennan acknowledged that previous efforts to involve the private sector in developing the area had not worked. In May the OPW became involved in managing the project after a long drawn-out competition to appoint a property developer stalled.
Speaking at the launch of the latest development phase, Philip Flynn, CEO of the DHDA, said: “Property development is an enabler – it’s what allows us to make the rest of it happen.” Chief among those aims is to support the growth of a digital media cluster in the area. “Our vision is, 2012 it there will be upwards of 3,000 people living and working in this new digital quarter.”
Ruth McPartlin, CEO of Fluid Rock, an interactive media agency that was one of the hub’s first tenants in 2002, said that developing the area was important to keep existing companies such as her own and attract new ones. “There’s one bank, no digital print shop, no creche facilities and the transport infrastructure isn’t up to our needs. There are plenty of opportunities outside just office space,” she added.
Noel Dempsey TD, Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, emphasised the community aspect of the project: “The hub is not just about offices, fibre-optic cable, exports and high-tech start-ups. It’s about reinvigorating a community … the hub is in a living community, one that we want to breathe further life into.”
By Gordon Smith