AFTER a long and drawn-out fight, Irish Life & Hammerson have lost. Their proposal to turn the Ilac shopping centre into a casino and entertainment area has fallen through, and the deal is dead in the water. The zoning and building will remain a commercial shopping centre for the foreseeable future.
Irish life & Hammerson
Irish Life, a pension firm serving the Irish people for over 80 years, and British developer, Hammerson Investment group co-own the IIlac shopping centre north of the River Liffey in Dublin.
The Ilac shopping centre has been hit brutally hard by Covid-19 and their rents and revenues have dropped dramatically. In the first quarter of the year, Hammerson was only able to collect 31% of its rents and that number doesn’t look to be going up anytime soon.
The Ilac Shopping Centre
The Ilac Shopping Centre was subject to Irish law and orders closing all non-essential stores and businesses, and are attempting to stay open as best they can. Currently, the list of shops and stores have been limited by management to include only the essentials and takeaway food services. For an up to date list of what is actually available, you can check their website here.
Thinking outside the box
What’s a large investment group to do with a massive empty commercial space? Their solution was to appeal to the council to use their existing space to rebrand and convert a vacant retail unit into a casino with ancillary “family entertainment” in the two-storey, 500,000 square-foot space.
The planning request sought permission to convert the former Jack and Jones outlet into a gambling-friendly entertainment venue, projected to be operated by Expo Casino, a local gambling outfit. The casino markets itself as a 24-hour a day, 365-day a year operation — never closing and continually bringing in revenue.
On paper, it may have sounded like a good idea. An unused commercial space with no purpose being repurposed to create revenue for a company. It seemed like the perfect solution.
In September 2020, the Dublin City Council voted that a casino did not fit the intended land-use originally laid out in the development plan. The City Council worried that allowing such a project would set an irrevocable precedent, with the council’s deputy planning officer stating, “There are serious concerns that permitting a casino at this location would be setting a precedent for such a non-retail use within Category 1-designated streets, the primary shopping streets in the city centre”.
Later appealing the decision to An Bord Pleanála, the national planning appeals board, Hammerson and Irish Life argued for the economic benefit of the 24-hour gaming centre. Retail destinations in Ireland have been massively affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, and brick and mortar casinos online casinos have seen a spike in revenue.
The appeal was summarily rejected, primarily due to concerns about the hours of operation. After further reviewing the location and zoning didn’t make sense to the city council to allow the change in zoning.
The planning inspector voiced apprehension that this “would result in loitering and anti-social behaviour on Coles Lane and the surrounding streets at night. This would neither protect nor enhance the amenity of neighbouring residents and occupiers and would detract from the designated conservation area.”
NoDepositKings‘ Irish desk reported that “It’s a blow to the Irish gamers but options for gaming nationwide are still widely available.”
Not a good fit
This comes off the previous scandal where the Catholic archdiocese got into a tiff with management over who actually forced the closure of the Ilac chapel. Whether it had any effect on the City Council’s decision is questionable, but closing a chapel the previous year and attempting to retrofit the mall into a casino probably didn’t do Irish Life & Hammerson any favours.
Concerning the planned casino development, the Dublin City Council seemed to think that repurposing retail outlets towards more leisure-oriented activities would harm the viability of the retail market, despite a trend towards the former. The local pushback to the proposed endeavour has, for all intents and purposes, killed the project.
Until the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Dublin had a thriving casino industry that unfortunately has been acutely affected by recent lockdowns, lack of visitors, and drops in revenue. Changing times require flexibility for businesses to thrive and survive in uncertain times, so it will be interesting to see how the market adapts going forward.