Donegal man plays key role in negotiating major retail deals

LEGO recently announced that it is to open its first ever store in Ireland in Grafton Street while premium fashion group Flannels and Swedish fashion giant H&M have signed up at the redeveloped Clerys Store site on Dublin’s O’Connell Street.
The leasing of those three anchor stores to high-profile brands, which are due to open later this year, have been negotiated by Donegal man, Kevin Sweeney.
Mr Sweeney, a native of the Cross, Killygordon, is Director of Retail, Savills Ireland.
“The refurbishment of the former Clerys department store will transform this area of the city into one of Dublin’s premier destinations. These two fantastic retailers will have a transformative impact on retail in Dublin,” he said.
“Similarly, I’m delighted to have negotiated the deal that will see LEGO bring world-class retail experience to Grafton Street this summer,” he added.
Mr Sweeney works with the owners of the biggest and best retail property in the country, like Dundrum Shopping Centre, advising them on how best to manage their portfolios.
He’s come a long way from wanting to be a film director as a final year student at St Columba’s College, Stranorlar!
“I couldn’t work out how to get there (film director) so I literally ran my finger down through the prospectus for Galway RTC (GMIT) and stopped at property.
“I didn’t like the idea of going to the big smoke (Dublin) and Galway sounded cooler. I wish it was more sophisticated but that was my thought process back then,” he laughed.
After Galway, he went to Oxford Brookes University where he completed a degree in Estate Management.
On his return to Ireland, and Dublin, he took up employment with Bannon – becoming a director – before moving to Australia in 2010 and taking up employment with the Westfield Group, the second biggest shopping centre company in the world.
Married to Sinead Hassett, a Paediatric surgeon in Crumlin Children’s Hospital, the couple have three children Meabh (10), Darragh (7) and Una (5).
They moved back to Dublin five years ago when he took up the role Director of Retail, Savills Ireland.
“We left Ireland when the recession was starting and people say that we were lucky to come back when we did but we’ve come back to a housing market that really isn’t functional and five years on we have yet to buy a house,” he explained.
The Clerys Quarter scheme on O’Connell Street, which is due to open in the final quarter of this year, represents one of the biggest retail deals in recent years.
“It is such a marquee building and was home to a department store that had lost its relevance. The aim was to make it relevant and prominent once more and achieve the best result that we could for the owners.
“It brings a major retail store back into the centre of Dublin. People can now go into the city centre to shop and hopefully these two stores will act as the trigger point in the revitalisation of O’Connell Street,” he added.
The new Dublin LEGO store will feature the “Retailtainment” concept which blends physical and digital experiences that allow shoppers to immerse themselves in the LEGO brick, as well as create personalised products.
“Irish Life, one of the biggest owners of property in the country, were focused on getting the best tenant for their shop on Grafton Street and LEGO is an example of what high street retailing has become – an experience for the shopper and not just some place where you go in, pick up a box with LEGO bricks and leave. This is another huge boost to the retail market in Dublin,” he said.
Mr Sweeney predicts the retail sector will grow over the next two to three years with a “buoyant” office market as workers return.
Closer to home, he is hopeful that the retail market in Donegal will also prosper.
“|f nothing else, Covid has helped develop the entrepreneurial spirit in people who found themselves at home. Some decided to run with the retail venture idea they had and opened smaller businesses locally. That indigenous business community may well fill many vacant shops in towns and villages around the county.
“Donegal has always been dominated by its proximity to the border with a lot of UK retailers in operation and Brexit is an added complication. Local operators have struggled to get started and build up a customer base. Hopefully, Covid might let a bit of oxygen feed into local businesses,” he said.

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