Whatever happened to... RTÉ's €350m plan to build a new hi-tech headquarters?

The state broadcaster announced the ambitious project in the middle of the recession.

By Paul O'Donoghue

OVER THE PAST year or so, Fora has taken a look at some of the more notable big-ticket projects that were planned during the Celtic Tiger period – or in the aftermath of its demise.

Most recently, we detailed the story behind developer Harry Crosbie’s plan to build a 40-storey skyscraper in Dublin’s docks.

Although the recession killed Crosbie’s vision, there are plans to build a 17-storey office block at the site, so at least it’s being used for something.

For this installment we’re moving to the leafy suburbs of Dublin 4, where RTÉ was planning a big overhaul of its Montrose headquarters.

What was it?

The ‘RTÉ 2025′ plan would have seen the state broadcaster consolidate much of its operations under one roof.

It envisaged that over a period of between 10 and 15 years, many of the broadcaster’s buildings constructed in the 1960s and 1970s would be replaced with a “purpose-built modern building complex designed for the digital and high-definition age”.

It said it could not house the new technologies it needed in its existing buildings as they were unsuitable.

The redevelopment would begin with the construction of new television and radio studios, followed by production and rehearsal areas as well as staff offices.

The development would have taken place on a 32-acre site at RTÉ’s base on Montrose, Donnybrook. The RTÉ 2025 plan would have used about half of that area, so there still would have been room for expansion.

rte 2025 credit Scott Tallon Walker Architects cropped
Source: Scott Tallon Walker Architects

Both the Irish Times and the Irish Independent reported at the time that the project would cost €350 million.

When was it first suggested?

It formally announced its plans in September 2009, but RTÉ was likely looking at options for the site for a while. A spokesman for the broadcaster said at the time that the project was ‘seven years in gestation’.

What happened?

The plans raised some eyebrows when first announced given that the timing coincided with the start of the recession.

Nevertheless RTÉ said that the development was a necessary one and got planning permission in April 2010 from Dublin City Council.

Some well-heeled Donnybrook residents, unenthusiastic at the prospect of a decade of construction work, appealed the decision.

Among those to stand against the project were the German embassy and billionaire businessman Dermot Desmond, who has a house on nearby Ailesbury Road.

dermot desmond Dermot Desmond
Source: Laura Hutton/RollingNews.ie

The planning board sided with RTÉ, approving the project with a number of restrictions attached. That was in November 2010, however RTÉ 2025 was put on ice over the next few years as the state broadcaster struggled to break even.

What’s the latest?

In 2015, as RTÉ struggled with a financial deficit, a government report recommended that the organisation sell off part of its Montrose base to raise some cash.

The broadcaster took the advice to heart and the site was formally put up for sale at the start of 2017. Halfway through the year, just under nine acres of the land was sold to housebuilder Cairn Homes for a staggering €107.5 million.

The agreed sale price was well above the guide price of €75 million flagged when RTÉ put up the land for sale, with reports at the time suggesting that it was the highest price paid for a plot of residential land in nearly a decade.

Cairn Homes now plans to build 500 apartments and 20 houses at the site. RTÉ still holds a big chunk of land at Montrose and also pocketed its massive windfall.

The broadcaster said at the time that any proceeds from the sale would not be used to plug funding gaps and would instead be invested in technology and big capital projects.

RTÉ hasn’t announced any major plans to follow up its ’2025′ vision, which is shelved in its current form. However, as the Cairn deal demonstrated, there’s plenty of potential for development at the broadcaster’s Donnybrook base.

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