£1 billion business park at edge of city set to become top commercial centre

A £1 billion business park is rapidly taking shape on a 200-acre site alongside the M50 in west Dublin. Park West, a state-of-the-art development within the city boundary, has transport links spanning three generations - it includes a canal, a railway and motorways - and is well on the way to becoming one of the country's most important business centres, with more than two million sq. ft of commercial buildings.

The main access is strategically located off Nangor Road, close to the interchange of the M50 and the Naas Road. Although the office park is only being officially launched this week by Pat Doherty's Harcourt Development Group, six office blocks with 120,000 sq. ft of space are due to be completed within a matter of weeks.

The first company to move in, Sitel TMS, opened a call centre in its new 25,000 sq. ft building last Wednesday and the remaining five blocks are due to be handed over to tenants at three-week intervals. Simultaneously, construction is to start on another five office blocks with a total area of 280,000 sq. ft.

Apart from Sitel TMS, early tenants will include Information Technology, who are taking 25,000 sq. ft at a rent of £15 per sq. ft; Fund Management (15,000 sq. ft at £13 per sq. ft); Alarm Receiving Centre (16,000 at the same rent), and a logistics company which will be paying £13.50 per sq. ft for 15,000 sq. ft. Harcourt has spent £14 million on the most up-to-date infrastructure, including a superb landscaped environment distinguished by a whole range of sculptures, including the work of Angela Conner.

The park's telecommunications facilities are apparently among the best in the world. The fibre-optic connections are designed to meet the requirements of large multinational companies, including those in IT, computers, electronics, science, software, pharmaceuticals and healthcare.

By the end of the year, Park West Business Park plans to complete 18 office blocks with two million sq. ft of high-tech space. One of the main selling points of the scheme, apart from the high specification finish, is the flexibility of office sizes, ranging from 3,000 up to 100,000 sq ft. The fast pace of development is dictated not only by the strong investor and tenant demand, but by the likelihood that the valuable tax breaks on the 82-acre office park will end in December.

Under the Enterprise Zone scheme, owner-occupiers can claim a tax allowance of 100 per cent on the construction costs, 50 per cent of it in the first year. Owner-occupiers and tenants may also claim double rent allowances and a remission of rates over a 10-year period.

With tax shelters for investors being steadily phased out, it is hardly surprising that private investors have spent over £100 million in Park West during the past year. They, too, can avail of 100 per cent tax allowances on qualifying construction costs, with 25 per cent available in the first year.

Companies qualifying for enterprise zoning tax breaks are mainly engaged in internationally-traded activities such as data processing, call centre service, software development, healthcare and research and development.

By 2003, it is expected that 25,000 to 30,000 people will be employed at Park West, a new landmark along the M50 which is light years away from the crudely designed industrial estates clustered around the Naas road.

Park West, unlike most other large scale developments - including the International Financial Services Centre - will offer workers a range of leisure as well as shopping facilities. The planning for the new park provides for a 40,000 sq. ft leisure centre which will have a gym, tennis and squash courts, restaurants, shops and a bar. The promoters are to make maximum use of the Grand Canal which forms the southern boundary to Park West. The canal is to be restored and provided with fishing stands, moorings, seats and walks as well as boating and canoeing facilities.

The concept for the new park was devised after study of the best facilities abroad. Pat Doherty says the park is the most innovative in Ireland, good enough to draw international companies in competition with many other locations in Europe.

Irish companies would also be impressed by the standard of architectural design, the IT facilities and access to local infrastructure. "In particular I believe the accessibility of the park will be an important feature in attracting business to the area. It is on the edge of Dublin's new motorway network, major arterial roads and the airport. It also has its own on-site railway station."

That railway station is to be upgraded to handle the Arrow Service. Dublin Bus has also created a new route between Clondalkin and Crumlin which will bring commuters into the centre of Park West every half hour. The service is augmented by the park's own internal bus service, which will operate from the railway station and also link in with regular bus services on the Naas Road.

Last week, Harcourt Holdings completed the purchase of the adjoining Semperit plant from the Jefferson Smurfit Group for £16 million. The acquisition ties in nicely with the original Park West industrial complex, which has more than 600,000 sq. ft of high quality buildings.

Companies based here include Dixons, Roches Stores, Walsh Western, Kerstin Hunik, Whelan and Microwarehouse. The strong demand for space in the park has meant that virtually all new buildings are sold off the plans. There is planning permission for another million sq ft of industrial buildings.

Harcourt also plans to develop almost 700,000 sq. ft of new light industrial/warehouse and office spaces alongside the Semperit plant, and to refurbish more than 400,000 sq. ft of existing buildings. These old buildings will be stripped of all cladding and services and upgraded with new modular cladding. The existing buildings can be subdivided into any number of combinations, from 10,000 to 100,000 sq. ft.

Joint agents for the park are DTZ Sherry FitzGerald, Lambert Smith Hampton and Palmer McCormack.

Park West is being developed by Harcourt Holdings, a leading property company with assets between £150 million and £200 million, led by businessman Pat Doherty. With Park West expected to have an end value of £1 billion, Harcourt is now one of the most active developers in the country. It owns the massive Galway Shopping Centre as well as shopping centres in Donaghmede, Dublin 13, Portlaoise, Letterkenny and Long Walk in Dundalk. It also has plans for further retail developments in the greater Dublin area. Mr Doherty was born in Buncrana, Co Donegal, and has a holiday home on Lough Swilly. He spends most of the week in Dublin and weekends at his home in London. He originally began building houses in Derry and Belfast on a 50/50 joint venture basis with the record company, Chrysalis. In 1987 he formed his own company and initially concentrated on housing and office schemes. He later moved into the retail area, first developing the 120,000 sq. ft Letterkenny Shopping Centre and then acquiring and upgrading Galway Shopping Centre.

Mr Doherty bought the first 150 acres in Park West six years ago, when there was little demand either for offices or industrial units. Harcourt subsequently acquired a stretch of land along Nangor Road and built a £1.5 million bridge over the Grand Canal to give it access to Park West. The park began as an industrial facility but when the then Minister for Finance, Mr Ruairi Quinn, designated 82 acres as an enterprise zone, it allowed Harcourt to refocus its project priority and switch to a high-quality office scheme.

The revised plan, completed by Tim Darmody of Project Architects, provides for a classic business park layout with many of the blocks built around landscape plazas distinguished by a mixture of water features and sculptures. All the office buildings have air conditioning, raised access floors, suspended ceilings and passenger lifts to suit the demands of the tenants.

Apart from the superb landscaped grounds, Park West will also become known for its collection of sculptures, most notably a mobile sculpture by the international artist Angela Connor which may turn out to be the tallest in Europe. The 70-ft mobile bronze "wave" will sit above the former Guinness reservoir. Harcourt will be spending around £2 million on specially commissioned sculptures including works from Irish artists Orla de Bri, Ronan Halpin and student Patrick Coughlin.

Esat Digifone have also worked with the promoters to create a signature tower sculpture for the park, which will also serve as an antenna for Esat.