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Summer 2018

The man who owns 40% of the new Belfast Waterside development has said ground will be broken on the half-a-billion pound project by the end of 2018, if phase one of the scheme gets the go ahead from Belfast City Council’s planning committee tonight.

Planning officials have already recommended approving phase one of the development on the former Sirocco site, which includes a 13-storey office building capable of housing 2,500 people.

Speaking exclusively to the Belfast Telegraph, Jim Osborne (55) of Vanguard Real Estate, said while Belfast Waterside is his first investment in Northern Ireland, it won’t be his last, with potential projects in the pipeline including a retirement village and an industrial facility.

He confirmed almost £20m has already been spent on the Belfast Waterside project to date by the Vanguard partnership, which includes the Birmingham-based Kelly family, and real estate company Graftongate.

The scheme could eventually see a series of apartments, a hotel and a bridge built over the next five years.

A native of Dundalk, Mr Osborne has a reputation as a prolific developer, with business partnerships around the globe.

Last Monday Mr Osborne completed the $235m sale of a building in Dubai to HSBC, which was built by his Middle Eastern business partnership Gulf Resources Development and Investment (GRDI).

“In the past seven years, I’ve developed and delivered somewhere in the region of 7.5 million sq ft of projects,” he said.

The list includes a one million sq ft building for Citi Bank in Manilla, Ikea’s biggest warehouse in the world – at the new airport in Dubai – and the headquarters of Standard Chartered in Accra, Ghana, which was completed last month.

Specialising in offices that are completed fully kitted out, he claimed that the space created by phase one of Belfast Waterside will be occupied within 21 months of work starting, with the entire project finished in five years, subject to planning. He said the project does not a pre-let to proceed, nor is it reliant on bank loans.

“We have no debt to date and we believe most of this project will get built on a pure equity basis,” he said.

Mr Osborne said Belfast is now attracting interest from investors across the world, and is competing directly with cities like Warsaw, Prague and Austin in the United States.

“My core business is to globally develop office and industrial buildings, literally all around the world, usually in places with high growth economies, shifting demographics,” he said.

“With a number of our large occupiers, which we deal with around the world, Belfast would come up in conversation, as somewhere they were looking at growing jobs and starting business.

“This is a city which could be a real beneficiary of job growth and upskilling.”

Commenting on his other potential investments here, the developer said he was close to securing a deal on an industrial facility in Northern Ireland.

“We think that upskilled, clean manufacturing is going to be a growth area here,” he said. “We’re also in the process of acquiring -with some Indian partners – a site for a retirement village.”

He suggested the investments would be in the tens of millions. While he has only turned to Northern Ireland as a development prospect now, Mr Osborne revealed that he lived in Lisburn during the 1960s as a child, while his father worked on the M1 motorway.

“Coming from Dundalk, Belfast has always been large in our psyche. Half the people I grew up with were transplants from Belfast – from the Markets or the Short Strand,” he said.

“There’s more to this than the pure investment. We really want to create something here. We’re going to remake that site into somewhere where employers visiting from Silicon Valley, or from India or wherever, are going to see this as a world-class place, that we can attract and grow talent.”

He recalled how last summer he brought a group of Indian investors to three cities – Belfast, Glasgow and Dublin.

“Belfast was the clear winner. The Belfast story isn’t being told,” he added.

“It’s not being told how safe it is here, how welcoming it is, how positive it is, how energetic and how entrepreneurial people are.”

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