Kevin O'Neill: The only way is up as Cork skyline set to change beyond recognition in years ahead

Cork is on the up with €400m worth of tall building developments proposed for the city in the next few years, writes Kevin O’Neill

Kevin O'Neill: The only way is up as Cork skyline set to change beyond recognition in years ahead

Cork is on the up with €400m worth of tall building developments proposed for the city in the next few years, writes Kevin O’Neill

Cork is looking up and the sky is limit.

A series of planned developments look set drastically alter the city’s skyline in the coming years, with a network of tall buildings proposed throughout the city’s docklands potentially catapulting Cork into the future.

They are designed to accommodate a soaring population and an anticipated increase in jobs in the region.

Until just a few months ago, the 17-storey, 71m Elysian Tower was Ireland’s tallest building.

The completion of the 22-storey, 79m Capitol Dock saw that honour move to Dublin for the first time since the 1960s, when Liberty Hall was briefly the country’s tallest structure until Cork County Hall was built in 1968.

Now, more than €400m worth of tall building developments have Cork looking upward again. Cranes are returning to the skyline and progress is rapid in some areas already.

Government strategies anticipate Cork’s population to grow by 36% by 2031. To cater for a growing workforce, as well as city-centre accommodation, planners and developers are looking up, not out.

Skyscrapers and tall buildings are on the cards instead of sprawl, with higher-density urban developments deemed preferable.

Leading the charge with some €170m worth of developments on two sites is Tower Holdings Group, a New York-based developer proposing to build the country’s tallest building on Custom House Quay.

Kevin O’Sullivan, chairman of Tower Holdings, said Cork is “well-positioned to take full advantage” of anticipated growth, but added that infrastructure needs to match the progress of private development.

Tower Holdings Group’s first Cork development is the Prism Building, on Clontarf St, next to the city bus station. It is set to commence construction in “early 2020”, according to the company.

Taking its inspiration from the famous Flatiron Building in New York City, The Prism Building, designed by Cork’s Reddy Architecture + Urbanism, will be a first of its kind in Ireland. Positioned on a triangular-shaped brownfield derelict site and with a footprint of only 310 sq m, the crystalline, light-filled tower will stand at 15 floors tall, offering Grade A, own-floor office space with panoramic views over the city.

Tower Holdings’ second plan for a 34-storey tower — some 140m in height — would be, by some margin, the tallest building in the country.

Designed by world- renowned architecture practice Gensler, in association with Henry J Lyons as local architects, the iconic new hotel tower will be carefully incorporated to complement the old Custom House and bonded warehouses. The hotel accommodations will offer spa, swimming pool, and gym facilities, while featuring a sky bar and restaurant.

Plans hit a bump in September when city planners sought further information on the project in relation to a number of aspects, including height, fire safety, and river access.

The project includes a skyscraper hotel, as well as retail, cultural, food, beverage, and office elements.

Developers say they are “at an advanced stage” of submitting its response and they are keen to “produce the best possible design for the site”.

A more well-known name in the Cork market is JCD. John Cleary’s company is behind a large number of developments in the city environs, including 85 South Mall, the Capitol, One Albert Quay and City Gate.

Now the company has its eyes focused upwards, with plans in train for a 25-storey build-to-rent apartment complex on Albert Quay on the site of the former Sextant bar and Carey’s Tool Hire.

The building was conceived as a “response to the severe shortage of quality rental accommodation in the city” and would dwarf much of what is planned elsewhere in the city.

When the scheme was announced, developer John Cleary noted it had been 12 years since the last new city-centre apartment block of scale was completed, and that the failure to address this shortfall would be an impediment to Cork’s future growth.

“We really believe that Cork has an opportunity to undergo a real transformation into a modern European city, where people are encouraged to work, live, socialise and shop in the city centre,” he said.

In addition to the 25-storey landmark tower, which would be viewable from all over the city, the development includes two lower residential blocks of nine and 12 storeys.

It remains in the planning system at present, with An Bord Pleanála due to make a ruling on the scheme by the end of February 2020.

Just out of the planning process is the Railway Gardens development.

Located next to Cork City’s South Link Road, it sits opposite the Elysian tower — currently Cork’s tallest building — and would be just 10m shorter than its cousin.

It would stand at 58.5m tall and include 118 build-to-rent apartments.

In what was a rare occurrence, the development was actually revised upwards on the recommendations of planners. An Bord Pleanála advised an additional four storeys on the initial plan of 13, describing the initial proposal as “stocky and out of proportion”.

The plan was greenlit by An Bord Pleanála in recent weeks.

Elsewhere, it remains to be seen how developers will approach two projects that were approved in October 2018 and January 2019, respectively.

In October 2018, An Bord Pleanála approved a proposal for a €140m residential development of 413 homes in Mahon.

It included a planned 25-storey tower near Mahon Point and the Jack Lynch Tunnel.

McCarthy Properties/Montip Horizon is behind the Mahon riverside proposal.

If this was to be finished before the Custom House Tower, it would be the country’s tallest building. If the Custom House Tower was finished first, the Mahon structure would remain the country’s second-tallest.

The second of these approved (but as-yet unrealised) developments is a 10-storey tower in the city docks on Victoria Road.

From Target Ark Ltd, the development includes 19 apartments, a restaurant and a café and would be located at 5 Victoria Road, next to Goldberg’s Bar and Navigation Square.

The 10-storey plan was approved in January and developers said, at the time, they hoped to commence work by the end of 2019.

Another high-rise proposal in the city with a less than clear future is that of a 12-storey hotel tower as part of the office and hotel proposal for Sullivan’s Quay.

From BAM, the proposal includes planning permission for 220 bedrooms, a restaurant, an internal courtyard and office space.

However, in March 2019, the developer offered the site for sale on the open market.

Agent CBRE was instructed to find a buyer for the hotel which, as yet, remains a proposal rather than a reality.

While the future of many proposals remains unclear, there is an obvious drive upwards from developers.

Hotels, offices and apartments are all proposed in a series of structures that are viewed as crucial in aiding the development of the Cork Metropolitan Region in the coming years to emerge as a strong counter-balance to Dublin, as mapped out in the government’s Ireland 2040 strategy.

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