Sunday, 2 November 2008

Property slump saves Liberty Hall

The country's largest trade union, Siptu, has become the latest victim of the property slump and has decided to postpone plans to demolish and redevelop its landmark Liberty Hall headquarters in Dublin.

After considering whether to sell what was Ireland's first 'skyscraper', the union finally decided to redevelop the historic 16-storey building and replace it with an 11,000 square-metre development which will be the national headquarters of Siptu. It will also include commercial office space, which the union hopes to lease to defray the cost of the development.

The development also includes a roof-level viewing platform and cafe, a large underground heritage centre relating to the rise of organised labour and national independence, and a 250-seat auditorium and public amenity space .

Demolition of the adjoining theatre was supposed to start last July but the property slump meant the prospect of the union leasing offices in the new development disappeared. The global credit crunch also ensured that Siptu had little chance of getting a loan for such a costly development.

In addition, the union's centenary is next year and senior Siptu officials felt that it would be better to be at home for the event rather than scattered throughout the capital while its birthplace was being demolished.

Liberty Hall was built in 1965. The construction cost was largely met from members' subscriptions. While the union is financially sound, there is no way that it could finance such a major development from union funds today. It would become reliant on property developers and banks, all of whom have had a very bad year.

This is the third major 'skyscraper' development in the capital to have fallen foul of the harsh economic climate. Last week, the Dublin Docklands Development Authority postponed the €200 million U2 Tower project, which is to be built just up the river from Liberty Hall at Britain Quay.

The 200-foot tower has been delayed for at least a year because of the economic downturn, the DDDA said.

The deteriorating economic climate was also cited earlier this year by Martin Mansergh, junior minister in the OPW, as a reason for postponing the government-backed Heustongate development, which included a 32-storey tower and a science museum.

Sunday Tribune

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