Thomas Ryan surprised the London real estate world earlier this month with his plan to build the city’s highest residential tower.
It wasn’t the scale of the project, proposed for the Canary Wharf financial district, that caught developers and brokers off guard. Instead, few say they have ever heard of Ryan, an Irish businessman whose public business record in his home country includes six companies that were deregistered for failing to file information required by authorities.
“I’m not aware of who he is,” Alan Selby, senior partner of London-based property broker Alan Selby & Partners LLP, said by phone. “I’ve not come across him in the past.” Selby’s company has advised developers including Hammerson Plc and Canary Wharf Group Plc since London’s second-largest financial district opened in 1984.
Ryan Corporation U.K. Ltd., set up by Ryan last year, paid 100 million pounds ($162 million) for the site of the proposed 794-foot (242-meter) Hertsmere skyscraper in Canary Wharf, according to a Nov. 14 statement. The site’s owner is GMV Ten Ltd., a company registered in Jersey in the Channel Islands, according to documents at the U.K. Land Registry dated Nov. 25.
Andrew Teacher, a spokesman for Ryan Corporation U.K., declined to comment on the company’s development and financing plans, provide information on Thomas Ryan’s background or make him available for an interview. Neither Ryan, 45, nor officials for GMV Ten could be reached directly for comment.
Luxury-home developers plan to build more than 20,000 properties in London over the next decade, consulting firm EC Harris LLP said in a Nov. 24 report. Prices in the city’s center will climb about 23 percent through 2018, extending a five-year rally, according to broker Savills Plc.
British homebuilders including Berkeley Homes Plc and Minerva Ltd. have been constructing luxury properties in the U.K. capital to take advantage of rising demand from overseas buyers. Other established investors in London, including Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Co., have also moved into residential development.
Occasionally, relative newcomers to the market buy land. Oxley Holdings Ltd., a Singapore-based property developer, plans to build 3,400 homes in London after agreeing to purchase the Royal Wharf site for 200 million pounds.
It’s unusual for a company without a track record or a known source of capital to attempt a project as big as the one announced by Ryan’s company.
“I haven’t come across him professionally,” said Simon Kelly, who was among the biggest Irish property investors before the country’s real estate crash in 2008. The project “struck me as being very aspirational,” he said.
Patrick Duffy, who advised former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern in 1997 to 1999, said he met Ryan more than a decade ago and the two men became friends. Duffy helped Ryan set up two companies, according to Irish company filings, though he wasn’t involved with them after they were established, he said.
Ryan’s family were from Co. Tipperary in the south of Ireland, Duffy said.
“He had all the appearances and appurtenances of wealth,” according to Duffy, who said he hasn’t spoken with Ryan in several years. “He’s extremely well-educated, he’s very well-read, very astute, a man of the world, knows his culture, his literature, his music.”
Ryan set up Ryan Corporation U.K. in February 2012 and owns all the shares, according to filings held by Companies House in London. The company had assets of 1 pound as of February 2013, the filings show.
Ryan helped establish five companies in Ireland from 2006 through 2011, including real estate businesses and a helicopter company. All of them were deregistered for failing to submit financial statements, according to Companies Registration Office in Dublin. Ryan co-owned a sixth company that was set up in 2001 and later deregistered.
Court filings in Dublin show tax authorities and an Irish unit Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc secured judgments for debts against a man called Thomas Ryan. On Oct. 28, 2011, tax officials registered a judgment of 498,093 euros against Ryan, and on Nov. 1, secured that debt against 2, 4 and 6 Sandymount Road, on the south side of Dublin. In London filings, Thomas Ryan of Ryan Corporation U.K. lists 2 Sandymount Road as his address.
In January of this year, the RBS unit secured a 768,000 euro-judgment against a Thomas Ryan of the same address. On Oct. 7, tax officials registered a judgment for 1.67 million euros against Ryan, with an address at 13 Herbert Street, Dublin 2.
At 13 Herbert Street, a brick Georgian building in the city center, a brass plate beside the door reads “Ryan House” and identifies the office as the corporate headquarters of Ryan International Corp. In Irish filings for some of his companies, including Ryan Helicopters Ltd., Ryan used 13 Herbert Street as a business address.
The building is being used by a Dublin legal firm. A woman working there said that Ryan International Corp. wasn’t based there anymore.
Teacher declined to comment on the judgments, which creditors can use as a step toward recovering debts.
Court records don’t show whether the judgments have been settled. Ireland doesn’t have a central register that definitively records all settlements. Tax authorities and RBS declined to comment.
Ray Flynn, the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and a former mayor of Boston, calls Ryan “a quiet but proud Tipperary man” whom he had met at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City in 2007.
“I sat next to him at an event and he knew I was a friend of the great Irish singer Frank Patterson,” Flynn said in an e-mail. “He asked me about the special relationship between Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan. He had read my book about them. He seemed well informed and pleasant. Any Irishman is hard to forget, especially one from Tipperary.”
Hertsmere would be the tallest tower constructed in London since the Shard, western Europe’s highest building, was completed last year. It would also rise above the office towers that dominate the Canary Wharf financial district. The luxury apartments in the skyscraper would have a total value of more than 1 billion pounds when it opens in 2018, Ryan Corporation U.K. said in its Nov. 14 statement.
Commercial Estates, a London property company, is the project manager for seller GMV Ten, the filings show. Gerard Versteegh, chairman of Commercial Estates, declined to comment.
While Ryan wasn’t named in the statement, Chief Operating Officer Richard Berridge said: “Londoners are used to office buildings going up and coming down every 20 years or so, but this doesn’t happen with residential towers.”
Berridge declined to comment on Ryan when contacted by phone.