by Ciarán Hancock, The Irish Times
Property developer Jim Osborne can see no reason why his company Castleway Developments cannot become a global player.
Property developer Jim Osborne has so many balls in the air at the moment that he could probably moonlight as a juggler at children’s parties.
On Tuesday, his company, Castleway Developments, announced that it had acquired a large business park beside Philadelphia International Airport for $33 million (€25 million). It plans to add a million sq ft of space, after which it expects the site to be worth about $150 million.
It also recently paid $10 million for 150 acres in New Jersey that it plans to redevelop for industrial and office facilities. He also has designs on buying property in Boston.
In Ireland, Osborne and his business partner, John McCann, are seeking planning permission for a 50-acre strip of land that they acquired recently in Blanchardstown, west Dublin. Their entire site there comprises about 135 acres.
In Britain, meanwhile, they have raised €60 million with the help of Liberty Asset Management for the Orion property fund. It is seeking on deals of up to £20 million in London, the southeast, the northwest and Scotland.
This might just be the tip of the iceberg. Osborne’s ambition is to ultimately make Castleway a global player, and he is planning to relocate with his wife and two teenage children to London as a stepping stone in that process.
“We don’t see why we can’t compete on a global stage,” Osborne says. “We feel we’re good at what we do and that we can build a global brand.”
It’s a bold statement for a businessman and a company that has little or no profile in Ireland, never mind abroad.
The business model is simple. Osborne and McCann buy sites that they believe are suitable for industrial activity, warehousing or offices. These tend to be close to motorways in big cities, making it easy for companies to get in and out.
“We’re not about constructing high-profile buildings or buying trophy assets,” Osborne explains.
In many cases they root out properties that have become run down but have potential for significant redevelopment in the right hands and with the proper attention.
Philadelphia is a case in point. Castleway expects to more than double the rent roll there to $8 million-plus a year.
It has already signed up Concord Steel and GSA, a centralised procurement and property management agency for the US government. It is also in advanced talks with Sunoco, a major oil company in the US.
Osborne credits his business partner McCann, who is from Castleblayney, Co Monaghan, with finding the Philadelphia property.
According to a document for the Orion property fund, McCann has a portfolio of investments, comprising shopping centres, golf courses and residential property “conservatively” valued at €300 million.
“He’s one of the most astute property traders in Ireland,” Osborne says.
As for Osborne, he brings about 25 years worth of experience as a developer and negotiator to the mix.
Born in Vancouver in 1962, his Irish-born parents relocated to Dundalk when he was just six months old and he grew up in the Border town.
“People from that part of the country tend to be entrepreneurial and have a trader mentality,” he says.
He left Ireland in 1983 with a civil engineering degree from Trinity College under his arm and headed to Britain where, among other things, he was a member of the project team that built Canary Wharf.
Osborne was a director of Stanhope Group between 1992 and 1994. In early 1995 he was approached to relocate to Hong Kong to head up the Asia operations of Tarmac plc, helping to successfully restructure the loss-making operation.
Ten years ago he set up his own company in Hong Kong, CMInternational. It went on to become one of the biggest real estate services firms in the region. CMI had 500 staff in offices in Singapore, Manila, Shanghai and Seoul.
Osborne sold a 49 per cent stake in the company to Trammell Crow, a US developer, for $13.5 million in 2002. The balance was due to be acquired as part of an earn-out.
Osborne, however, decided to cut his ties with the company early and return to Ireland.
“There’s only a certain amount of your life that you want to give over to the travelling that was involved in that job,” Osborne says. “In 2003, I started spending more time in Ireland and Europe.”
Osborne and McCann teamed up to form Castleway in 2003, having successfully working together on a project in Dundalk. Since then, they have compiled and investment portfolio worth about €300 million, with another €200 million worth of development projects in progress.
When he is not cutting property deals, Osborne likes to relax with a session in the gym, a long walk or some jogging. “I don’t get time to play golf,” he says.
He looks slim and healthy, which is remarkable given his globetrotter existence. Sitting in the Great Southern Hotel at Dublin airport on Wednesday at about lunchtime, he had about an hour to kill before he had to dash for a flight to London.
From there, he was due to connect with an 11½-hour journey with Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong to share in his son’s 18th birthday celebrations.
Osborne says he is looking forward to the trek, no doubt helped by the fact that he had a first-class ticket for the second leg of his journey.
“I’ll have a bed on the plane so I know I’ll be able to get a good night’s sleep,” he says. “We land at 2pm [ Hong Kong time] after which I’ll go to the gym and be out for dinner that evening. You lose about a day going there but actually it’s a good chance to recharge the batteries.”
His family remained in Hong Kong so his son could complete his education, Osborne says.
They will leave the island in June to rejoin Osborne, who intends to set up camp in the English capital. “My focus for the foreseeable future will be on the property market in the UK and London. It’s a huge market that I know very well. It’s got lots of potential.”
Name: Jim Osborne
Position: Managing director, Castleway Developments
Family: Married to Janet with one son and one daughter
Homes: Ringsend and Hong Kong
Hobbies: Running, walking and reading
Why in the news: Castleway this week acquired the Philadelphia Airport Business Complex for $33 million (€25 million). More acquisitions projects are planned for the United States.
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