Several big-brand retailers are poised to breathe new life into Cork’s St Patrick’s Street and help it shake off its tag as the street with the highest vacancy rate in Ireland.
Cork Business Association (CBA) chief executive Lawrence Owens said several deals have been done, and more are in the pipeline, for some of the street’s higher-profile vacant units, which were not reflected in a major survey the week before last.
The report by real estate firm CBRE showed the vacancy rate of prime ground floor retail space on Cork’s main shopping street rose to 19.5% in the first three months of the year.
That’s up 1.3 percentage points on the last three months of 2014 and gives St Patrick’s Street the highest vacancy rate of all the country’s main retail locations.
The street showed an increase despite overall signs of improvement in Ireland’s retail property market.
Cork was one of three locations to see its retail vacancy rate increase, with Kilkenny rising 1 percentage point to 7.7% and Killarney up 1% to 3.9%.
Mr Owens said he was confident that by Christmas, Cork’s main retail street would have shed that tag.
“At the moment, 18 of the 84 premises are empty, vacant or un-let. There’s no getting away from that,” he said.
“But the Moderne is being kitted out for Superdry, Holland & Barrett is going in to the old Wallace outlet, and Jack Jones is going in to Mothercare.
“Other premises are close to sale agreed or to leases being done.
“Those deals will drop the percentage down to 14%. Although that’s still too high, it is a big improvement.”
Merchants Quay shopping centre and Penny’s are also working on a major new developments which should see other vacant units on the main street being occupied.
Mr Owens said with the general economic conditions improving, and with some €500m worth of development projects earmarked for the city centre over the next two to three years bringing almost 8,000 workers into the city centre, the massive extra consumer base should see things improve further.
“I am absolutely confident that the percentage of vacant units will come down further,” he said.
“The corner has been turned and by Christmas, the vacancy rates will be lower and the domino effect will speed up the reduction.”
But with plans to ban private cars from St Patrick’s Street, Mr Owens said the focus must now turn to upgrading public transport links.
Richard Jacob, who runs Idaho Cafe on Caroline St just off St Patrick’s Street, said the authorities must ensure a ready supply of affordable parking, easy access by public transport, and should do more to incentivise new businesses.
A graded commercial rates system would encourage people to lease vacant units, he said.
“The current rates for some of the premises on St Patrick’s St are just ridiculous and actually act as a disincentive to starting a business,” he said
“They should consider introducing a sliding rates system — paying no rates in the first year, maybe 25% in the second year, 50% in the third year and so on, to encourage people to take over these units.
“There is so much to sell about Cork City. It has a great atmosphere, but we need to make it much easier for people to get in here, and make it easier for locally owned independent operations, rather than the brands and chains, to set up business here.”
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