Kilkenny City hasn’t been as badly affected by high-street vacancies as some other towns and cities but has seen a rise in the number of vacant commercial spaces, from 3.3% in early 2014 to 7.7% in the first quarter of this year.
A mix of indigenous shops and eating spots along with the historic layout of its core, with narrow alleyways, winding lanes, and attractive buildings — not to mention Kilkenny Castle a stone’s throw away at The Parade — all make the Marble City a popular spot for shoppers and tourists alike.
The urban area hasn’t been as badly hit by the “doughnut effect” — whereby large retail businesses migrate to the edge of town, leaving a half-empty centre — as many similar-sized towns across the country.
“The Borough Council, when it was here, didn’t allow large developments on the edge of town,” said Paschal Bergin of the Kilkenny Business Group. “They wanted to keep everything within High St and John St. The biggest development was at McDonagh Junction [shopping centre] beside the railway station.”
Nevertheless the business community is keen to see more incentives to open shops in the city centre.
Martin Costelloe, a jeweller and president of the Chamber of Commerce, says Kilkenny has managed to keep much of its independent retail offering. He blames rents and rates for any other empty units.
The council and Fáilte Ireland are to be praised, he says, for developing the Medieval Mile in the city centre, and for keeping commercial projects in this area, even during the boom.
“We lost a lot of good businesses in the recession and a lot of those have been replaced by cafes, pound shops, and charity shops which are all fine in their place but when you get to a certain percentage of them, the street starts losing its appeal. We’re lucky in Kilkenny in that we haven’t got to that percentage yet.”
The development of a strategy for the former Smithwick’s brewery site, bought by the local authority for €2.1m from Diageo, should help.
“It’s in a prime location and what it’s perfect for is an expansion of the retail core,” said Mr Costelloe.
“If there is going to be an expansion of the retail space in Kilkenny, that’s where it should be.”
This could be accelerated with news that the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund has expressed an interest in becoming involved with the site’s development. “Kilkenny needs the brewery site to bring in more jobs,” said Mr Bergin. “The tourism thing is fantastic but a lot of the jobs are seasonal and can be low-paid. We need something else in the city.”
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