He reached for the sky
Saturday October 16 2010John Meagher profiles Garrett Kelleher, whose 150-storey skyscraper dream came to an end this week as the last roar of the Celtic Tiger fades
It was, perhaps, the last great hooley of the Celtic Tiger.
On Wednesday, January 23, 2008, 600 dignitaries led by Hollywood couple Liam Neeson and the late Natasha Richardson, descended on a vast marquee erected in the centre of Dublin's private park, Fitzwilliam Square, to gaze at a model of the Chicago Spire, a futuristic 150-storey skyscraper set to be the world's tallest residential building.
Over the next three days, 1,000 people would visit the site, to witness a spectacular example of Irish can-do. After all, it was a Dublin developer, Garrett Kelleher, who had pledged to make this extraordinary structure a reality. Not only would its dimensions stun the architecture world, but Kelleher was promising apartments as luxurious as any ever built.
Designed by the Spanish star-architect Santiago Calatrava -- responsible for Dublin's James Joyce and Samuel Beckett bridges -- the distinctively twisting building would boast almost 2,000 residential units, with prices starting at $750,000 for a studio apartment, memorably described by the Chicago Tribune's architecture critic Blair Kamin as "shag-a-delic, Austin Powers-like". Those in the market for a duplex penthouse with views over Lake Michigan would have to fork out $40 million.
The urbane, if normally media-shy, Kelleher was joined by Calatrava at the Dublin launch and they talked up the Chicago Spire with all the finesse of master salesmen. With Ireland's economy thought to be so buoyant, there was little surprise when up to 30 people placed holding deposits on apartments in the development, according to Savills Hamilton Osborne King, the Irish agent employed by Kelleher.
But Kelleher's dreams of reaching for the skies would be short-lived. The foundation was dug, but construction halted at the end of 2008 when it became clear that the economy would be in trouble for the long haul.
And this week, it was revealed that Anglo Irish Bank would be taking control of the building site, claiming its loans to Kelleher's company, Shelbourne Development, are in default. It is the latest of several high-profile projects in the US that Anglo has taken over as it seeks to recover money for the taxpayer, who is facing having to pump €34 billion into the bank......(cont'd)