Friday 23 March 2018

Money flowing on the Leeside

One Albert Quay
One Albert Quay
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

Cork is now on the cusp of a major retail recovery after six of the toughest years ever witnessed by the 'City of Merchant Princes'.

The imminent opening of Cork's largest office complex, the €50m One Albert Quay, coupled with the €70m redevelopment of the GAA's Pairc Ui Chaoimh stadium and the long-awaited €70m new Cork convention centre has delivered a mood of increasing confidence among traders.

That has been further bolstered by developer John Cleary's ambitious plans for a €50m retail and commercial centre at the old Capitol Cinema site, the city centre's largest remaining land-bank.

Best of all, there are indications that the city's worrying 20pc vacancy rate for city-centre retail premises is now falling back into the mid-teens.

In contrast to Grafton Street in Dublin which, even at the height of the financial crisis, boasted an occupancy rate of 97.5pc, Patrick Street in Cork was a study in the fall-out from the death of the Celtic Tiger boom.

At one point, Cork's retail vacancy rate was double that of Dublin.

Major premises were left vacant by the departure of such high-street retailers as HMV, GAME, Barratts, Budget Travel, Black Tie and Flor Griffin.

The closures even hit family owned businesses, with M&P O'Sullivan two years ago closing their Academy Street store, just off Patrick Street, after 107 years of trading.

"It was tough because there was so much history in that store. But times change and the economic climate left us with no alternative but to adapt to that change," James O'Sullivan said.

The Moderne, a boutique run from an iconic Patrick Street location by the O'Dowling family since 1913, was forced to move its bridal operation to Frenchchurch Street.

However, the signs of a turnaround in fortunes are now increasingly apparent.

High-profile clothing firm SuperDry is to open an outlet later this month in the old Moderne premises on Patrick Street.

Kerry businessman Liam Quinlan opened a major restaurant just off Patrick Street, Quinlan's, and admitted business has taken off.

"It has been beyond our wildest expectations. There is a quiet mood of confidence out there. We've been delighted by the reaction to our new outlet and very excited about our future expansion plans," he said.

"We believe that the Irish economy has recovered and that is why we are investing in the high street."

In a block off Patrick Street comprising Oliver Plunkett Street, Princes Street and Cook Street, five new restaurants have opened over recent months.

Humphrey Porter, of Café Depeche, is one businessman who aims to target the growing confidence with a new coffee venture on Washington Street.

Established traders, including Kate Lawlor of Fenn's Quay Bistro, said that business was finally getting back to pre-economic crash levels.

Owen O'Callaghan's €500m Opera Lane complex, one of the lynchpins of Patrick Street trade, has also enjoyed one its best seasons ever.

Sunday Independent

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