Inside The Making Of Googletown
If you take a stroll down Dublin’s quays to the docklands you will see people coming and going from offices, workers sitting in cafés and restaurants, as well as tourists and locals visiting chic eateries. It all suggests a vibrant trade, a community working and living in and around the area.
Award-winning, state of the art buildings populate the skyline of Dublin’s harbour, home of some of the world’s most successful and innovative companies, paying some of the city's top rents. It would be easy to think this was always how the historic dockland area looked.
But less than 15 years ago, the so-called 'Silicon Docks' was a wasteland.
That was until 2003 when Google decided to take a punt on Ireland as a good place to locate its EMEA headquarters in Barrow Street just off Grand Canal Dock.
The tech giant now employs over 7,000 people from all over the world making it one of the largest private employers in the city.
Starting with a five-person office in the Regus offices in Earlsfort Terrace, the company now occupies seven buildings in Dublin including the most recent lease agreements for an additional 51K SF in the Velasco building five minutes from the original Google space and 59.2K SF in Sandyford in South Dublin.
The cluster of buildings is already known as Googletown, almost always affectionately.
And Googletown is on the verge of growing again, as the company makes its most ambitious real estate move yet. It is close to signing a deal for the Boland's Quay scheme which would see the tech giant transform the area again with the development of offices, residential and public spaces right in the heart of the docklands, including the conversion of the historic Boland's Mills. With a cost of €170M+, it is one of the largest development deals in recent Dublin history.
Google's investment to date has been hugely significant for Ireland as it helped kick-start further foreign direct investment in the country, while the Boland's Quay development could see the tech giant become a private residential landlord in one of the most highly coveted areas in Dublin.
It is also in talks to buy the Treasury Building for €120M — not quite in Googletown, but a significant office transaction for Dublin nonetheless.
“They were the first corporates that moved off piste," Green REIT Chief Executive, Pat Gunne said. "The first part was the old core, then the next market to develop was the south Dublin market and the next part was Google making the step into what was the commencement of a really successful regeneration in the Barrow street and Grand Canal Quay area.”
Gunne said the “significant impact” of Google’s investment was “phased rather than something that just happened overnight”.
“If you think about where it sits in a micro-geographical context for Dublin, you’re right next to the old core and at the same time you’re on the canal docks, you’re on the water which creates its own ambience, atmosphere and feeling of space, ” he said.
WK Nowlan Director John Vaudin said that Google has made a significant impact on the area, “both from a commercial perspective but also from a residential point of view”.
Once Goggle moved in, the regeneration backed by Dublin city council got underway with the introduction of restaurants, ground floor retail and the Bord Gáis energy theatre developed by Joe O’Reilly.
They were quickly followed by modern office buildings that are now home to companies like Facebook, law firm William Fry and the Irish Pension board as well as the IFSC and the development of the North and South Docks.
“If you think of all the pubs, restaurants and cafés that have maintained themselves and opened over the course of the last 15 years when all the office occupiers moved in, it’s had a significant effect.” Vaudin said.
“It was really Google that kicked off that entire area. It started off as a regeneration and now it is very much part of the new city centre linking it in to the old city core,” Gunne said.
Vaudin thinks Google along with other overseas companies has brought huge change to the area.
“It has brought significant development and employment into the area, it's brought new housing and it has been an enabler for new business," he said. "It has transformed the area beyond recognition from 16 or 17 years ago. If you took a picture of what the area looked like then to what it looked like now, there is no comparison. It has changed dramatically.”
Google’s recent decision to let space in Sandyford was a different strategy which had not been seen from the tech giant before. Microsoft is already a resident of the area, with their new HQ in Sandyford which opened in February.
According to Gunne, Google's decision to expand was simply a bid to access and attract more talent.
“The south Dublin environment is incredibly well connected because you’ve got the m50, the m11 and the luas. You’ve got access to the affluent area of Dublin which is full of a highly educated labour force and is an attractive place to live and work.”
Vaudin thinks that lack of office supply in the Grand Canal area and the availability of residences for workers make this move logical for Google.
“The advantage that Sandyford and other areas have is they are well connected by the luas lines and other means of transport,” he said.
Last month, Google moved a step closer to completing the acquisition of the Boland’s Quay scheme from the National Asset Management Agency.
Once completed it will include three new landmark buildings, one of which will be an apartment block comprising 41 waterside apartments.
The project will also include 274K SF of office space, 15K SF of retail and commercial space, a new pedestrian bridge, two new civic plazas with water frontage to Grand Canal Dock and a cultural/community space of 6K SF.
It is not yet known if the apartments will be for Google employees or if they will be put on the wider market but Gunne thinks it could become a private rental scheme.
“It’s a Nama project so it will probably have to be on the best commercial terms,” he said. “The easiest way to de-risk would be to forward-sell the apartments to some of the traditional institutions who buy build-to-rent on scale and who want to get a bigger position, so I would say the likelihood is that they will become available on the rental market.”
Google may have led the way for companies to see the docklands as a potential office destination but both Vaudin and Gunne believe if it had not been Google another company would have taken the first step into the docklands.
“I think we would have seen the same amount of development,” Vaudin said. “There will always be catalysts for others to follow but if it hadn’t been Google, it would have been one of the others."
“It always takes the first mover but if they didn't do it someone else probably would have done it.”
Whether that is the case or not is probably a job for hindsight. What is undeniable is that the docklands continues to be the place where companies want to have a presence and where workers want to work which means the population of Googletown is continuing to rapidly grow.