Duke McCaffrey partners with Friends First to bring to life one of Dublin’s once forgotten shopping malls.

Opened in January this year, the Royal Hibernian Way is a mixed-use development of retail and office space. Duke McCaffrey’s brief was to help bring this once forgotten shopping centre back on the map for shoppers and retailers alike.

Dated and lacking the footfall that it needed to survive, the new retail units on the ground floor had to be inspiring, innovative and spacious to attract some of Dublin’s leading restaurant and café brands.

Keen to tell the story Ronan McGee, one of Duke McCaffrey’s rising stars talks about the exciting journey from vision to reality.

In the early days, what would you say were the main challenges for your client?

Since 2016 there have been many changes to the original vision and masterplan. Like any reputable investor, Friends First (now Aviva) was looking to protect the funds of its investors and to get the desired return on investment for them, landlord and tenant.

After creating a number of feasibility study options, where project values ranged from €25m to below €2m, the solution and catalyst lay in undertaking two phases.  Phase 1: developing striking and innovative leisure / retail spaces on the ground floor for occupation in January 2019 and Phase 2: increasing the nett to gross floor area for commercial office space to be let in 2020.

Once the designs for phase 1 had been agreed it didn’t take long to secure our first tenant, Isabelles, a great brand for Dublin and a great brand for Royal Hibernian Way.

What were the main cost challenges throughout the design and construction?

Every client is looking for innovation and ways of stretching the budget. We were fortunate to work with BDP architects. An inspiring practice with real vision, they created a striking and sustainable development.

Whilst the initial design costs were higher than first anticipated, the long-term benefit and returns from their design solutions will last the (30 year / 60 year) life span of this renovation. BDP designed inspiring and innovative shop fronts with timeless anodised bronze and removable equitone panelling. The signage was removable which mean that should tenancy change the building design was not affected. Anodised bronze fix goalposts and signage were also designed to draw in the public from Dawson Street and Duke Lane.

But it wasn’t just the design of the retail outlets that made the difference. Throughout our early discussions, it was clear that phase 2 would be taking place soon after. Therefore, to future proof the development we worked with O’Connor Sutton Cronin to install steels that would see a further three floors introduced when the commercial development takes place.

What were the highs and lows?

There were very few lows actually – budgets were tightly controlled, and programmes were well planned. There were a few hairy moments including negotiating downtime for other retailers, but due to the expertise of the teams it was managed in a professional manner and retailers were compensated for any loss.

The retail development cost per sqft was on budget at circa €133 per sqft.  This an excellent benchmark for a development such as this.

As for deliverables and timeliness, the design and construction teams were a pleasure to work with.

Architect – BDP
Engineer – O’Connor Sutton Cronin
M+E – Baker O’Reilly
PM – Virtus
PSDP – DCON Safety

McKeon contractors were the real stars. They were given a tight timescale and they met all their goals and promises. Committed and hands-on, they worked tirelessly to get the job done in the most professional way.

From your experience with Royal Hibernian Way, what are the three tips you would give to investors and developers when embarking on a major renovation like this?

  1. Undertake as many feasibilities as you need until the numbers work.
  2. Take the time in the early stages to explore all options to understand where the real value is. Often short-term gain can have a negative impact on longevity of a building, maintenance costs and future developments.

  3. Trust your quantity surveyor when selecting the right team.
  4. QS’ and PMs procure teams day in day out and know when the team is right and who can really deliver your vision on time and budget.

  5. Always build in a contingency budget so you are not left short.

Prepare for the unexpected. Contractors go bust, designs change to be conducive with new findings on site and market demands and expectations change. In our view circa 5-10% contingency is probably enough to make sure you have a sufficient budget.

What is next for Royal Hibernian Way?

That bit is under wraps for now as we are at planning observation stage but what we can tell you is that we have worked with Friends First to significantly increase the floor areas to double its current size.

Phase 2 will be an exciting development, partly because we get to realise the vision that was created in 2016.

Claire Solon, head of property for Friends First, said “There had been limited capital expenditure on the Royal Hibernian Way over the years because of the split ownership. But now as 100% owners, we are delighted that our investment in improving the retail offering has proved successful”. Claire continues “Duke McCaffrey supported us throughout – from inception of ideas to construction. Professional and real experts in retail, we were confident the scheme would meet our original vision.”

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