Penrose Dock meeting tall order

April 19, 2019

The tallest office building so far developed in Cork City, Penrose Dock next to Kent Rail Station at up to nine storeys, is setting an even more impressive record: its first core and lift shaft is up to full height, less than a year after the €125m project on the city’s north quays first applied for planning permission.

In an extraordinary scale and speed of development, plans were only submitted for the 250,000sq ft office development, being built in one single phase and capable of hosting 2,500 workers in two blocks, in May of 2018.

After the plans were approved by City Hall planners by October, developers JCD Group and PJ Hegarty started demolition on the 1.8-acre site, assembled off-market from four different property owners, within a week.

Already, and before the first anniversary of lodging for planning approval, the full double basement has been excavated, and the first of five cores for the two buildings is erected, dramatically visible from many city angles, including as a significant anchor bookending MacCurtain St.

Designed by Wilson Architects, the two Gold LEED buildings, of 80,000sq ft and 170,000sq ft with open floorplates of up to 20,000sq ft, along with open public plaza, gym and cafe (plus an upgrade to the listed 12,000sq ft 1838 limestone building Penrose House) will be ready for tenant fit-out by April 2020, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe TD was told on a site visit to Penrose Dock last Friday.

Notably too, the €125m JCD project adjoins the €160m Horgans Quay/HQ mixed used development also under advancing construction on Horgans Quay, in a development by Clarendon Properties and BAM, involving land owners CIE, and including a new hotel, the 136 bed Dean Hotel, 235 apartments to be pitched at the rental sector, and offices.

The two adjacent developments are the first schemes of any scale north of the River Lee (coming nearly 25 years after development at CIÉ’s Horgans Quay was first mooted) and serve as a counterpoint to south docks developments such as One Albert Quay, and Navigation Square, with further quay sites likely to follow (see planning notes here).

Cork currently has up to 1 million sq ft of offices in the wings.

Despite a current reported slowdown in pipeline inquiries from new FDI companies, upbeat developer John Cleary says discussions are in train with potential occupiers, both with companies already in Cork and/or Ireland and with new arrivals, and has retained agents CBRE and Cushman & Wakefield, with a marketing suite established in Penrose House.

Key attractions he identifies are proximity to transport hubs such as the rail and bus stations, and to the city centre, with vibrant retailers and attractions also along MacCurtain St.

He estimates office take-up in Cork has averaged 350,000sq ft per annum over the past 15 years, with the lowest in mid-recession at 180,000 sq ft, and says Cork is acting on the opportunity to become a proper counterbalance to Dublin, as the capital comes close to capacity.

Since Brexit, Cork was now competing for mobile investment with European cities like Barcelona and Bratislava, rather than with the likes of Manchester, noted Mr Cleary, with employment in JCD’s completed Cork developments such as City Gate in Mahon, the Capitol, One Albert Quay and 85 South Mall at 4,500.

The private sector was investing in Cork “in anticipation of the proposed public sector investment committed for the city under the Government’s National Planning Framework, Project Ireland 2040,” says Mr Cleary, pointing to plans to significantly grow the expanded city’s population, to assets such as CIT and UCC, and important clusters of excellence, such as in cybersecurity.

Visiting Penrose Dock and reviewing docklands progress, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe TD said “we have seen how this type of development and regeneration of city centre sites have worked very well in other progressive locations around the world.

“With the integration of public transport, large employment hubs and ultimately high-density residential developments, these projects breathe life and prosperity back into areas of cities that have long been underutilised.”

“Cork competes at a global level for foreign direct investment and developments such as Penrose Dock will undoubtedly add to its current offering of quality of life, competitive cost base and well-established multinational clusters in life sciences and technology, as well as its excellent educational ecosystem,” added the minister.

JCD’s Penrose Dock is being funded by US fund Quadrant, who also backed the completed JCD office development 85 South Mall, anchored by KPMG and Forcepoint.

The Cork-based development company JCD Group has also recently acquired a pivotal south docks site on Albert Quay, Carey Tool Hire and the Sextant, considering office and residential development options.

It is due to go on site within the next few months to build the region’s first data centre, at Little Island, and is also building a second new, 60,000sq ft warehouse/logistics building at Blarney Business Park, having fully let a 50,000 sq ft unit, the first spec-built industrial unit in Cork in over a decade.

Tommy Barker
Irish Examiner
19th April 2019