Food sector can bring life back to Cork

For the past decade, when driving east along Washington St in Cork City, I uttered a profanity at the abomination that is the Capitol Cinema complex on Grand Parade.

Part of that expletive was aimed at anyone who has responsibility for managing such an eyesore in a high- profile part of Cork, and part of it was intended for planners who allowed this ruin to fester.

That cursing has now been replaced by calmness and tranquillity after the decision to approve a €50m re-vamp which will bring high quality retail shopping and a food innovation centre to this part of the city centre.

That decision follows approval to move forward with the Beamish and Crawford site development and occurs while the Albert Quay office block springs in to life near the City Hall.

If anything provides a tangible foil to the hard economic data released this week, showing a resurgent Irish economy, it is these construction projects.

Anyone who travels around regional cities in the UK will already know that the street landscape in many of these urban centres has been destroyed and made soulless by closed shops, run-down buildings, and metal shutters that make the atmosphere of the town seem cold and threatening.

Cork is managing to fight that trend, which could easily have consumed the city amid a collapsing economy.

Now is the time to turbo-charge its recovery with more out-of-the-box thinking that augments the baby steps represented by these shovel-ready projects.

What is now notably missing from the centre of Cork city are residents.

Such a cohort have the potential to complement the initiatives around commercial office and retail development by energising life by day and night in the centre.

Next time you walk around the city’s streets, look up and see how many buildings are vacant above the first floor.

Some of that space is used for storage and offices but a lot of it represents a high opportunity cost compared to what could be situated there.

Clever planners, coupled with progressive renovation and construction investors, could surely kick-start a renaissance in urban living?

The prize is a city that lives and breathes not just through the working day but across a 24-hour spectrum.

The challenges they face are obvious.

Schooling, car parking, and access are clear hurdles and that may point more towards a community comprised primarily of students, individuals or small families.

Whatever the composition, the potential to have an eclectic mix of residents conducting their daily lives at the heart of the city has great appeal.

The food innovation aspect of the Capitol complex may provide an angle to populating the centre.

University College Cork is already mushrooming out into various parts of the western end of the city and channelling its footprint towards the centre may be a fruitful endeavour in the next decade.

In particular, finding ways to intertwine the educational third level services around food with the live experience of the English Market and folding all that around a cluster of top- class restaurants, cafes, and bars could deliver an impressive eco-system.

In rebuilding Cork to be an urban jewel, the leveraging of a food and beverage heritage that surrounds the city and its county is a plan worth exploring.

A perusal of the myriad of food and drink companies that have populated Cork since the time the world’s butter price was fixed near Shandon St shows how rich and innovative the industry has been.

Using that history, coupling it with the first-world skills that exist presently in Ireland, could help develop Cork as a food and drink destination city on the global tourism map.

Banging a few heads together around that notion might add value in future-proofing the city.

Joe Gill is director of corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.


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