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Post-Covid life for Cork City centre looks hopeful

Maeve McTaggart, News Editor

Cork City Centre is looking towards entering a post-pandemic world in a state of growth rather than the decline predicted by the impact of COVID-19. Despite the loss of local business, footfall and the closure of retail giants such as Debenhams since the onset of the pandemic in 2020, new plans seek to rejuvenate the city centre after a year of an economic lull. 

The go-ahead for the €140m development of what will be the country’s tallest building has been granted by An Bord Pleanála for a site on Custom House Quay. The development by New York-based Tower Holdings includes a 34-storey hotel to sit behind the iconic Port of Cork sign, with a range of retail, office, food, distillery, leisure and tourism spaces to accompany the build. CEO of Tower Holdings Group, Kevin O’Sullivan, said the project “will add great value to the city and boost the docklands regeneration.” In early March, the Government demonstrated a desire to pursue a €300m redevelopment program for the area which includes the now vacant R&H Hall and Oldlum’s factory. 

Further into the heart of the city, fashion retailer Penneys has confirmed a major expansion of its St Patrick Street premises from a space of 37,000sq ft to 54,000sq ft – an increase of almost 50% – to consume the block which stretches from St Patrick St to Oliver Plunkett St, from Cook St to Robert St. A number of empty store units will be filled through Penneys’ expansion. Tech giant Apple has also shown interest in continuing its expansion from its site in Hollyhill into office space in the city centre.

The Irish Examiner recently compiled a list of vacant premises sitting idle in Cork City centre, with the result a lengthy confrontation with the reality of the pandemic’s impact on the retail sector. Buildings formerly occupied by Topshop, Debenhams, Argos, Monsoon, Clarks, AIB, Eason and USIT have all closed their doors to customers, leaving swathes of the city centre’s main streets dominated by ‘To Let’ signs. 20% of Cork’s main street is vacant, estate agent Lisney reports, with 15% of its side streets similarly empty. Discussions with major retailers to fill such sites as the iconic old Roches’ Stores are ongoing, with the hope that the injection of high scale developments of the Docklands and Quays will increase interest.