Hotel plan for Cork's South Mall could be a banker

Planning permission is being sought for a 58-bed hotel at and behind 71 South Mall, the former NIB branch with its classical, Cork limestone facade. It faces the side of the Imperial hotel. Picture Larry Cummins

A NEW, multi-million euro boutique hotel is planned by one of the country’s most accomplished hospitality developer/managers, for Cork city’s South Mall, taking in a historic bank building which has lain idle since 2012, after Danske Bank/NIB closed its 27 Irish bank branches.

Planning permission is being sought for a 58-bed hotel at and behind 71 South Mall, the former National Irish Bank (NIB) branch with its classical, Cork limestone facade, with the development site running down the side of Morgan Street, which faces the side of the 202-year old Imperial Hotel, which commands the midsection of the rejuvenating South Mall.

The application comes just a month after the official opening of the 163-bed Dalata/Maldron hotel on South Mall and Parnell Place, and a target opening date of 2021 is mooted at 71, if planning is successful.

Behind the surprise application at 71 South Mall/Morgan Street is South Mall Hospitality Ltd, headed by directors Ray Byrne and Eoin Doyle.

Entrepreneurial Ray Byrne opened the Wineport Lodge in Lough Ree over 25 years ago (RTÉ’s The Restaurant is filmed there). During the past decade of economic recovery, Mr Byrne carved a niche in running hospitality businesses for receivers, most famously in Dublin’s case in Cafe en Seine (recently relaunched).

Among his several company interests is hospitality management firm NHance, with up to a dozen businesses under its care in locations as diverse as Dublin, Kilkenny and Cork, including (since 2017) West Cork’s famed Eccles Hotel in Glengarriff, just undergone a €1m upgrade.

Architects for the South Mall 58-bed hotel project are Mall-based Scott Tallon Walker (who also did the Clarion Hotel/City Quarter for Howard Holdings in the mid 2000s,) and the very recent planning notice seeks a change of use from financial/professional services to hotel.

The application says the existing, five-bay classical banking hall (designed by William Caldbeck in 1855) will be kept for bar/restaurant/cafe use, and the four-storey building will be upgraded, with over 12,000 sq ft added behind in a five/six storey building for 58 bedrooms, with set-back and roof deck, with guest access to the hotel from the narrow Morgan Street which links to Oliver Plunkett Street, and where the bank branch had a cash transfer depot/access.

Picture Larry Cummins

The property, owned by a private investor in recent decades, adjoins the yellow brick corner property 72 South Mall/Morgan Street, the offices of the late estate agent Liam Lynch, who died recently, and which previously were part-occupied by Keane Mahony Smith auctioneers.

Contacted this week by the Irish Examiner, South Mall Hospitality co-director Ray Byrne said they aimed to established a boutique hotel to cater for growing visitor numbers and demand and would “ retain and refurbish the impressive façade of the property that sits proudly on South Mall.”

“The wonderful banking hall with its high corniced ceilings, elegant pillars and striking black and white tiled floor will form the backdrop for a buzzy café/bar, where locals and visitors can meet and experience traditional Cork hospitality,” Mr Byrne stated, adding that “South Mall has undergone a renaissance in recent times with the opening of the new Maldron Hotel and a major refurbishment of the famous Imperial Hotel. It is also home to some of the city’s best loved eateries, such as Electric and Jacobs on the Mall.”

The application is further proof of new vitality and organic growth prospects for the historic trading thoroughfare, once a waterway, and now being lifted by a rising economic tide.

Among the other recent developments is the arrival of FBD Insurances, in the former Ulster Bank branch at the corner of South Mall and Cook Street, the letting deals by JCD Group at their brand new 46,000 sq ft office block at 85 South Mall, to KPMG and Forcepoint, and the new Maldron Hotel at the Mall’s eastern end.

That hotel, with completion works continuing post its December 2018 official opening and the pending arrival of its Italian restaurant in March on Parnell Place, adjoins the iconic 97 South Mall former AIB bank building, now occupied by Eventbrite and owned by JCD.

No 71’s aimed-for re-use of its C19th banking hall may go on to show ‘what could have been,’ had Dalata opted to purchase and integrate 97 South Mall into its hotel plans, in what would surely have been the south’s most impressive hotel foyer?

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