TIMES may be tough on Dublin's Grafton Street -- but Bank of Ireland (BoI) will soon be dishing out business advice to fledgling firms from a premises on the country's main shopping street.
Four years after it closed a 'Mortgage Store' outlet the bank is fitting the premises out as an enterprise centre for start-up businesses, the Irish Independent has learned.
BoI is dubbing it the 'Enterprise Lounge' and will open the store later this month to coincide with National Enterprise Week.
The bank -- which is 15pc owned by the taxpayer -- closed its eight Mortgage Store outlets in 2008 as the downturn took hold. The store on Grafton Street opened in 1989.
The 'Mortgage Store' was a retail brand of the ICS Building Society, which BoI bought in 1984. At one stage there was even a Mortgage Store in Arnott's on Henry Street. The Grafton Street premises has been empty for the past four years despite efforts made by the bank to offload the pricey lease it holds on the five-storey building.
A spokeswoman for the bank declined to say how much it has been paying in rent and rates on the high-profile location.
The enterprise lounge will initially extend over two floors in the building and BoI intends to hold events such as business seminars there.
It will also provide space for the bank's start-up and small-business clients to meet customers and avail of WiFi, internet, and other services.
Additional floors may also be fitted out depending on how successful the new venture becomes.
Whether the concept is rolled out anywhere else will depend on the response to the new outlet, the spokeswoman also said.
"It's a fantastic location. This will support new business and growth. But this has to work for customers and it has to work for the bank."
At one stage Grafton Street was among the world's top five most expensive streets for rents. But prime rents on the thoroughfare have returned to about 2003 levels and are less than half what they were during the middle of the boom.
Earlier this year McDonalds sought to cut its €1.1m Grafton Street rent bill in half as a condition of signing a new lease.
Bank chiefs are being grilled this week by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform on a range of topics including lending to small businesses.
BoI bosses are due to appear before the committee today, while officials from AIB and Irish Bank Resolution Corporation were probed yesterday.