Saturday 20 December 2008

Mansfield pursues convention centre plan

JIM MANSFIELD looks set to stir up another hornet's nest in relation to his five-year battle to build a second convention centre at his sprawling Citywest Complex in Saggart, Co Dublin. You might recall that Mansfield was forced to stop work on the facility a few years back, leaving a shell in place that still remains.

Mansfield thought he had finally received the green light when An Bord Plean├íla granted planning permission last January, albeit with a reduced capacity of 4,100 compared with his original plan to host 6,000 at the €50 million venue.

South Dublin County Council, however, is threatening to scupper his plans. Citing a European Court of Justice ruling on retention planning permission, the council has threatened to take Mansfield to court unless he produces an Environmental Impact Assessment report.

Mansfield's legal advisers disagree and the larger-than-life businessman plans to press ahead with the development. "We'll be starting next week," Mansfield told me on Tuesday in his spacious office overlooking the helipad at Citywest. "We're actively recruiting staff for the convention centre."

Mansfield claims to be weathering the economic storm reasonably well. Turnover at Citywest this year is up 6.7 per cent. Mansfield says only two events have been cancelled and he has 120 events booked in for 2009.

Citywest comprises 1,730 hotel rooms, suites and apartments; two golf courses and a large convention centre. It has proved to be a cash cow for Mansfield's expanding business interests, which include Weston aerodrome, Finnstown hotel near Lucan and Palmerstown House golf course in Kildare.

His holding company, HSS, achieved turnover of €103 million in the year to the end of March 2008 and had retained profits of €77.3 million.

Weston is also flying, so to speak. It made a profit of €900,000 on turnover of €3.1 million in the year to the end of March.

That said, his properties have had their valuations slashed. "Citywest probably would have been worth €550 million at the peak . . . today you're talking about €400 million. Palmerstown is 800 acres. That was worth €500 million. Today I suppose you would be doing well to get €300 million."

Has he dropped money on the stock market? "Not two shillings," he says. "I invested €500,000 in Irish Life one time and it did very well to begin with and so I put more money in, and then it went down and I lost a packet. Never again did I get involved in it."

Irish Times

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