In Dublin, an enclave of young tech employees has helped transform a derelict industrial area into one of the trendiest—and most expensive—neighborhoods in the Irish capital.
Professionals working in Grand Canal Dock at the European headquarters of Google, Facebook and Airbnb are supporting a wave of trendy cafes, bars and restaurants. Dubliners have dubbed the area Silicon Docks.
Demand to live in the heart of the action is soaring. The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Silicon Docks was $2,155 in the first quarter, compared with a Dublin average of $1,481, according to figures from property website firm Daft.ie.
Ireland is still emerging from a seismic property bust in 2008. Home prices were cut in half. The banking system was nationalized. The government eventually requested an international bailout to avoid default. In April, average Dublin home prices were still 38.1% below the 2007 peak, according to Ireland’s Central Statistics Office.
But rents in Silicon Docks are 12% higher than 2007. Part of it stems from a citywide housing shortage. It is also because “the younger tech workers are willing to pay a premium” to live in the neighborhood, says Clarie Neary, head of residential lettings at Savills in Dublin. “They don’t want to be anywhere else.”
Genevieve Coyne, 21, spent months searching the area for a place to live. In March she moved into a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment around the corner from Google’s offices for around $1,600 a month.
“Demand around here is ridiculous,” she says. Ms. Coyne, a trainee at accounting firm Grant Thornton, and her roommate Lauren Dunne, a LinkedIn employee, were viewing up to three apartments a week.
At one they showed up at a designated evening time slot to find “there were still maybe 60 people ahead of us,” she says. And the place was so disappointing, “I wouldn’t put my cat in it,” Ms. Coyne adds.
Rising prices are starting to make building viable again, experts say. In Silicon Docks, there are new projects either in the early construction or planning stages. However, “there’s not a lot of new build yet. It’s only starting,” says David Browne, head of new homes at Savills Ireland.
Development plans for the area call for 2,600 new residential units.
In the 19th century, Grand Canal Dock was a bustling hub for trading goods like coal and cattle. There were also glassmakers, ship builders and flour millers.
A decline in industry saw the population halved between 1990 and the 1980s. U2 recorded albums at studios amid the abandoned warehouses.
The Dublin Docklands Development Authority was set up in 1997 to revitalize the area. Google showed up in 2004, joining legal and financial-industry firms in the up-and-coming area just over a mile from Dublin’s main shopping district. Other tech firms followed. Google, Facebook and Twitter have continued to expand office space.
Mark Quealy and his wife Ruth rent a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment next door to Google’s Barrow Street offices for about $1,800 a month. The apartment block, Dock Mill, is “pretty much colonized by Google employees,” he says.
Mr. Quealy’s rent has gone up three years in a row. The landlord “knows that if we move out that he can fill it tomorrow for €2,000 ($2,200)” a month, says Mr. Quealy, 33, who works in Silicon Docks at law firm William Fry.
The heart of Silicon Docks is Grand Canal Square, a public space with cafes, bars, apartments and offices. The space outside the Bord Gais Energy Theatre, opened in 2010, bustles before a show.
Not everything is chic and shiny. Construction sites mothballed during the crisis dot the area. A municipal bus terminal sits along prime waterfront space. The stone and concrete Boland’s Mill, a protected landmark, is slated for a $165 million redevelopment with offices and high-end residential housing, but for now sits empty along the waterfront.
The area also lacks shopping options, Ms. Coyne says. “I tend to go to the center for that. But it’s only a 20-minute walk.”
Conrad Jones, 52, moved to the area eight years ago, and is now selling a four-bedroom condominium in Butler’s Court for around $900,000. The kitchen window overlooks the River Liffey. It also frames a symbol of the recent financial crisis: the concrete shell that was once the proposed headquarters for nationalized lender Anglo Irish Bank.
Two years ago, Mr. Jones combined two two-bedroom apartments, one atop another, to create a unique living space. “It’ll be bittersweet to leave,” he says, adding he’s moving out with his fiancée Ellen and his sons “for more space, a garden and a fireplace.”
Dara Burke and Jane Murphy, set to be married in August, last September rented a two-bedroom apartment overlooking Grand Canal Square and the hills beyond.
“I wanted to walk to work. And I wanted to feel safe,” says Ms. Murphy, 28, a barrister. “I realize that if I was living here 10 years ago those two things might not have been possible.”
The couple pays under the $2,200 a month that is typical for a property in the building, but were unwilling to divulge the price for fear of upsetting the neighbors.
“There are so many trendy people around here, especially in this complex,” says Mr. Burke, 38, a primary schoolteacher. “We were lucky to move in when we did.”
This article was originally published on The Wall Street Journal
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