Artwork to put life back into derelict city sites

Vacant shop windows are being transformed into artistic tourist information panels as part of a new approach to tackle dereliction in Cork City.

Business groups have described the move as a welcome short-term cosmetic exercise, but said cutting rates and tackling the cost of city centre parking must also be considered in the longer term.

Figures from last year showed that Cork was one of the hardest hit cities during the recession, with an average retail unit vacancy rate of 20%.

The showcase retail area, St Patrick’s Street, had a 12% vacancy rate whereas Grand Parade had a vacancy rate of 25%, with the abandoned Capitol Cinema site accounting for most of that.

Now the city council has hired graphic artist Robin Foley to put some of the abandoned ground-floor units to some good use.

Mr Foley, the creativedirector of Cork-based digital arts agency, Hurrah Hurrah, has created 11 original contemporary artwork images of some of the best-known permanent visitor attractions in the city and county.

The images, which have been created on vinyl decals, are being placed on illuminated boxes which will be installed in the windows of some of the worst eyesore vacant buildings, particularly on St Patrick’s St and Oliver Plunkett St.

The artwork gives information about and directions to the various attractions, including the English Market, the Glucksman Gallery, St Fin Barre’s Cathedral and Shandon.

“We wanted to do something contemporary, to put some life back in to these units and the streets they are on, and give something back to visitors at the same time,” Robin said.

Senior planner Jeremy Ward said the artwork will stay in place until the building owners succeed in letting the spaces to viable new businesses. “However, our ambition is to explore the potential for relocating the artwork to other vacant shop windows and bring this same beauty to the streets for the benefit of the city centre and the tourism industry,” he said.

“Hopefully we can find windows to host the postcards for the 2015 tourist season and we would welcome building owners to approach us on this.”

The artwork is also being made available as free cardboard postcards which Fáilte Ireland plans to make available at the visitor attractions themselves.

Meanwhile, figures have been released which show that the 2014 Painting Grant Scheme which offers grant aid to property owners in the city’s most historic areas to improve the look of their buildings has been the most successful in its five year history.

The council’s Planning and Development unit provides a maximum €500 grant if a contractor is hired, or €250 for materials if the building owner undertakes the project.

A total of 27 grants were sanctioned last year but the figure has jumped to 48 this year — almost double what is was just three years ago.

The 2013 scheme focused on the city’s historic spine — South Main St, North Main St, Shandon St, and on several streets around Blackpool.

This year, the scheme was extended to city quay areas including North Mall, Pope’s Quay, Camden Quay, Sullivan’s Quay, George’s Quay, and the adjoining side streets, including Dunbar St, Margaret St and Douglas St.

Among the high-profile buildings to benefit are the street-facing facade high wall at North Presentation Convent on Gerald Griffin St, the Bia Blasta restaurant on Douglas St, the Quay Co-Op on Sullivan’s Quay and Uncle Pete’s on Pope’s Quay.

Pubs like Eugene’s on Shandon St, Ó Cionnaigh’s on nearby Church St, and Forde’s Bar at the bottom of Barrack St, also got a lick of paint.

Helen O’Sullivan, the council’s project officer overseeing the scheme, said their priority was to achieve maximum impact and value.

“The council knows that painting buildings isn’t the whole solution to an area’s problems, but it is important and forms part of a suite of initiatives to regenerate the city centre,” she said.

Independent Cllr Mick Finn welcomed the impact the scheme has had on Barrack St in particular.

“Some of this work will be a short-term, cosmetic improvement but even this will make a huge difference,” he said.

“There is little point in the council investing millions in the streetscape of Barrack St if a lot of the buildings are like those in war zones.”

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From florist to fraudster, leaving a trail of destruction from North Cork, to Waterford, to Clare, to Wexford and through the midlands ... learn how mistress of re-invention, Catherine O'Brien, scammed her way around rural Ireland.

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