Kevin O'Neill: Developments in Cork City centre promise to transform city image

An exciting portfolio of works is underway, writes Kevin O’Neill.

Kevin O'Neill: Developments in Cork City centre promise to transform city image

An exciting portfolio of works is underway, writes Kevin O’Neill.

Almost one million square foot of office space and 1,300 new hotel rooms are in the pipeline for Cork and at various stages of development.

The city is seeing a construction boom, with cranes returning to the skyline and confidence rocketing at the same time.

It is not hard to see why: for decades, promises of progress seemed to go nowhere but, now, the results are in sight.

Cork is being primed to be a counterbalance to Dublin in terms of government strategy and new offices, hotels, shops and educational facilities are not just proposals, they are under construction in many cases.

Of course, there may still be hiccoughs for some.

Planning approvals are outstanding for some new hotels, including the proposed 35-storey skyscraper in the city, for example. However, the work ongoing on the city’s north and south docks have people brimming with excitement, wondering what the new city will look like in just a few years.

Offices are driving much of this work.

In its most recent assessment of the state of the market in Cork, property agent Lisney said that there is positivity from international investors when it comes to Cork.

The vacancy rate is now just 9.5% and it noted that 712,570sq ft of office space is under construction.

Remarkably, there is even more that has already secured planning with three city centre schemes promising almost one million square feet at Horgan’s Quay, Penrose Dock and Navigation Square over the coming years.

Horgan’s Quay and Penrose Dock are expecting to be at least partly occupied by next year, while Navigation Square has already opened one block and more should follow soon.

The iconic 1932 image shows workers above New York, building the Rockefeller Center during the global economic Depression.
The iconic 1932 image shows workers above New York, building the Rockefeller Center during the global economic Depression.

These are excluding the Karamex Ltd plan for Penrose Quay — a six and seven-storey building next to Penrose Dock — and smaller office plans in other areas.

Lisney said that rent is working out at roughly €32.50 per square foot, up 1.7% in the year.

It is no surprise that companies are looking south rather than at a congested capital.

Navigation Square will bring 360,000sq ft of offices to the market when finished. Block B construction continues and Clearstream has already occupied Block A, with blocks C and D due to commence in mid-2020.

On the south docks, work continues on the Penrose Dock development, which has full planning permission for 250,000sq ft in two buildings. The lift shafts and the structural frame have been completed and the external building envelope is well advanced. Completion is scheduled for May 2020.

The HQ development on Horgan’s Quay continues to take shape as the structural phase of the office element is visible and the construction of the hotel is well advanced. In all, 308,000sq ft of offices are included.

The hotel element of the development, The Dean, is to be operated by Press Up Entertainment Group. The group operates several Dublin hotels including The Clarence, The Devlin and The Dean. A third Dean hotel is proposed for Bohermore, Galway.

Tower Holdings is due to commence construction on a 15-storey, 60,000sq ft office block called the Prism in the New Year. The company is also hopeful that it might progress its 35-storey skyscraper hotel tower on Custom House Quay in 2020.

These are just two of the skyscrapers planned for the city, which has Cork looking up rather than out.

And, of course, the city centre development cycle is not all related to offices.

In addition to a plethora of student apartment developments, the city is in the midst of a boom in hotel development. Analysis by Fáilte Ireland indicates that 1,367 hotel bedrooms are in planning or under construction.

The city currently has 78 hotels, a total of 4,732 rooms and 11,680-bed spaces.

A 2018 report on tourism prospects in Cork said that visitor numbers were soaring — up 25% since 2015 — and that hotels were creaking under the pressure of occupancy, which had increased from 75% in 2013 to over 80% in 2018.

Average room rates also soared from €68 to €102.99 per night.

At the time, the report noted a series of hotel plans in the works, including the Maldron on South Mall, which has been completed and opened. There are a number of other plans in the works, including several expansions, as well as new premises on Horgan’s Quay, Windsor Street, Sullivan’s Quay, Parnell Place, Morrison’s Island and Grand Parade.

These do not include the potential 35-storey hotel skyscraper on Custom House Quay or extensions to the Metropole, the Imperial, the Kingsley and others in the city.

Retail, too, is seeing a bit of a jolt, too. The Merchant’s Quay facelift is advancing, with interior works completed and an exterior facelift due in the New Year. Further along the street, the historic Victoria Hotel is set for a redevelopment and hopes are high that the Savoy might see some renewed life in 2020 too.

There has been a visible influx from UCC and CIT in recent years and this is set to continue. Joining existing premises on Grand Parade, Nano Nagle Place and elsewhere, UCC has its sights set on the former Brooks Haughton site as home to their business school and, outside the city, a revamp dental and health campus will ensure the university’s long-term research capacity.

Horgan’s Quay

The huge HQ development, a collaboration between BAM and Clarendon, is progressing at a rapid pace.

The ambitious scheme will feature almost 309,000sq ft of office space, more than 300 apartments, a 120-bed boutique hotel with rooftop bar and about 6,000sq m of ‘public realm’ improvements.

The cranes at the site have been in place for months, with the buildings taking shape.

Phase 2 of the office development, 128,000sq ft, will begin construction in March.

About 92,000sq ft of offices, phase 1, will open next autumn.

The hotel known as the Dean, Cork, will open around the same time.

Negotiations continue with a number of retail operators to provide a convenience and food offering in the carriage shed element of the scheme. This is also due to open next autumn.

Developers are “working hard” to make the residential elements of the scheme viable.

A planning application to increase the scale of the apartment development to include 302 units has been approved, but increased regulation has added to construction costs, developers said.

“We hope to be able to start construction on the residential buildings next spring,” they said.

Sullivan’s Quay hotel

Permission was granted in June 2018 for what will be one of Cork’s largest hotels by developers BAM on the site of the former tax office.

The plans are for a 220-bed hotel, including a 12-storey cylindrical tower on the corner of Sullivan’s Quay and Meade Street.

The tower is among the tallest structures proposed for the city.

The hotel development will be built adjacent to a six-storey office development of 9,310sq m.

Demolition took place in 2018, removing the old tax office from the site. However, a large mound of rubble remains at the site.

In June 2018, Cork City Council commenced proceedings against the developer to remove the rubble mound.

Earlier in the year, the hotel was offered for sale via agent CBRE.

The hotel will be delivered to a specification agreed between the parties.

Navigation Square

The first block of the €90m Navigation Square complex was completed early this year, with tenants Clearstream Global Securities Limited moving in two months ahead of schedule in February.

The full project includes four buildings with 384,000 sq ft of office space on the south docks, just up the road from One Albert Quay.

The site immediately next to Navigation Square has been snapped up by JCD and may be home to a skyscraper apartment block, pending the outcome of a planning application next year.

Blocks A and B of Navigation Square are expected to be fully let by mid-2020, accounting for 250,000 sq ft of office space.

Construction is to start on Blocks C and D by June 2020, accounting for another 134,000 sq ft.

Events centre

The long-awaited events centre on the former Beamish & Crawford site on South Main Street looked like it was finally set to progress after planning approval in October.

However, the 6,000- capacity centre was subject to a fresh planning appeal in November, with the matter now before Bord Pleanála and not due to be determined until March 2020.

Revised plans were first lodged in 2018 but it is the latest chapter in a storied history for the development, which was first granted permission in 2011 and had a sod-turning in 2016.

All partners are still on board, with Live Nation due to run the venue, which will be a modern centre capable of handling a wide array of events.

Questions remain over the national funding contribution to the project. The Taoiseach has pledged to resolve this element but to date the specifics of how this will be achieved have not been revealed.

Grand Parade hostel

A planned 48-room hostel on Cork’s Grand Parade hit a stumbling block in August when city planners sought further information on the project.

Developers are London company Westhill, through an Irish subsidiary, Bluescape Limited. They have up to six months to respond to the queries. Its proposal planned to covert a building on Grand Parade, formerly a tourist office, into a six-storey hostel with 48 rooms, providing 284 beds.

The development called ‘Tourist House’ at 40-42 Grand Parade will also include a ground floor bar along with shared toilet/shower facilities, laundry room, storerooms, rooftop terrace, reception, social area, kitchen and bicycle storage.

It includes the demolition of buildings to the rear of 40-42 Grand Parade and construction of a six-storey extension.

City planners specifically sought information on the visual impact from various parts of the city, as well as details on what the social area of the hostel will involve, including whether or not the bar would be available to the public or just hostel patrons.

Developers have stated that Cork is vastly under-stocked in terms of hostels in comparison to the likes of Dublin, Galway and Killarney.

Hotel plan for Morrison’s Island

Plans to build a 183-bed hotel and three offices on the site of the former Moore’s Hotel in Cork city centre have hit a roadblock.

The proposal was submitted in October by the Dublin-based Greenleaf Group.

However, city planners have issued a request for further information. The developer has up to six months to respond.

The proposal included the conservation, modification and restoration of three protected structures at numbers 11, 12 and 13 Morrison’s Quay to allow for three new office buildings.

A new-build four to six-storey office and hotel development was also slated for the site.

This included 183 hotel bedrooms, seating areas, and ancillary restaurant, public bar, kitchen, hotel areas/ offices, staff areas, changing/ shower rooms, toilets, stores, bin and bicycle stores, stair/lift cores and circulation throughout, along with a courtyard at ground level and plant at ground floor and roof level.

The former Moore’s Hotel ceased trading more than a decade ago and had previously been on the market before being sold for a price believed to be over €7m.

In October, Premier Inn was announced as the occupant of the hotel site.

Parnell Place hotel

Construction was expected to start on a 165-bed hotel in Parnell Place, next to the city’s bus station, by the end of the year.

Planning was granted in December for the project, described as a boutique hotel aimed at the budget market, which is being brought to market by Tetrarch Capital.

An appeal threatened to hold up the plan but this was withdrawn in May.

Tetrarch’s portfolio includes the Mount Juliet Estate, The Dawson Hotel, Powerscourt and Citywest Hotel, among others.

The complex project which includes the adaptation of a listed 19th century warehouse building, was planned to be completed by 2021. The site includes buildings at 7-9 Parnell Place, previously the home of Flor Griffin and Mahers, and would stretch back to Deane Street and Lower Oliver Plunkett Street.

A historic laneway, linking Parnell Place to Deane Street, will be reinstated too.

It is part of a clutch of new hotels in the city, near the new Dean Hotel and Maldron Hotel.

Merchants Quay, Savoy, Victoria Hotel

Merchants Quay Shopping Centre is to undergo a facelift in the New Year at its St Patrick’s Street entrance.

Already, major interior works have taken place to make several units larger for modern retail, with new tenants including Born, Carraig Donn, Newbridge Silverware, Cici&Boo and Trespass.

It is just one of a number of shots in the arm for retail buildings in the city centre.

JD Sports is close to completing work on the former A-Wear unit on Patrick Street as part of the revamp of its store in the Savoy, while the historic Victoria Hotel will undergo a makeover too, with planning granted in May of this year.

The hotel, which dates back to 1810, has housed dignitaries, early meetings of the GAA and for a period a disco. New owners RESAM Properties is hoping to convert it for modern retail.

The facade facing St Patrick’s Street will be retained along with the arched decorative ceiling in the first-floor ballroom.

However, the ballroom mezzanine will be removed and new groundfloor shop fronts will be created.

An entrance to the Cook Street side of the building will also be created.

Key site at Penrose Dock

Another key element of the revamp of the north docklands in Cork City is the 250,000sq ft office space Penrose Dock.

From developer JCD, the scheme is already taking shape and has several key tenants signed up, including Grant Thornton and health food cafe Naturally Nourished.

The €125m development will be Ireland’s “greenest”, according to developers, with half a million euro being put into an additional substation and switch rooms to accommodate 160 electric charging points in the car park.

The developers said: “The Penrose Dock development forms a key part of the evolution of Cork’s Docklands into a thriving new economic district centred around the train and bus stations.

“In particular, the North Quays located at the eastern entrance to the city will be the cornerstone of a rejuvenated area, as it brings balance and adds momentum to the progress made in recent years on the South Quays, with One Albert Quay and Navigation Square.”

It is anticipated that the buildings will be occupied by the summer.

Proposed UCC Dental school

A new, modern dental school and hospital will open at UCC in 2023.

It is one of a series of major new projects in the works for the university.

The project is due to go to tender in February 2020. It involves an 8,500 sq m dental school and hospital in Curraheen.

About €34m in funding has been secured from the European Investment Bank, though the project will cost more than this.

Also in the works is a 3,500 sq m health innovation hub in Curraheen, with tenders completed, and a 3,000sq m clinical medical school on the CUH campus.

There will also be a new 20,000sq m clinical research network hub on the site of the current dental hospital at CUH.

The new dental school is planned for a site currently occupied by UCC’s sports campus. The sports campus will move across the road to more UCC-owned land to accommodate this.

Karamex Ltd

Next door to Penrose Dock, two more office buildings are set to move ahead.

From Karamex Ltd, the development looked set to be held up by an appeal but this has since been rejected by Bord Pleanála, clearing the way for the developer to start work on a two-building office development: one each of six and seven storeys.

The offices are designed for single or multiple office-users and are described as being for business, technology, industry or educational uses.

The development proposes the demolition of the buildings located between Penrose Wharf and Penrose Dock, and will include a rooftop terrace and solar panels.

There are also proposals for a ground-floor café.

Trinity Quarter - Business School plan

University College Cork is to open a 4,000-student strong business school in Cork City centre.

UCC has chosen the Trinity Quarter site, previously Brooks Haughton’s builders’ yard, as the location for its new Cork University Business School, for 200 staff and 4,000 students.

The site already has full planning permission for a development of 220,000sq ft, on 1.46 acres in a five-storey building with atrium and basement.

However, UCC is to seek permission for change of use from offices to education use and may seek approval from Cork City Hall for an altered design.

The height and scale precedent for such a large-scale development has been established.

It is anticipated that students could move in by 2022 or 2023.

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