In-limbo traders of the fire-hit Douglas Village Shopping Centre in Cork have prepared plans for a temporary mini-retail park nearby amid mounting uncertainty over the future of the complex.
They have identified a disused car park to the rear of Douglas Woollen Mills as a potential site for up to 37 temporary shipping container-style structures.
Their masterplan proposes locating nine different structures on the site to accommodate several retail types.
They have also appointed an intermediary to liaise on their behalf with the centre’s landlord and with City Hall in a bid to get clarity on when demolition of the shopping centre will start, how long it will take, and if and when the centre will reopen.
“The current uncertainty and lack of information is causing extreme concern and is making an extremely difficult situation for traders almost unbearable,” one business owner said last night.
The traders said they need clarity soon to allow them to make various long-term decisions about the future of their businesses.
The details emerged following a meeting yesterday of up to 30 independent traders who were left devastated by the August 31 fire at the shopping centre’s multi-storey car park.
The massive blaze caused millions of euro worth of damage to the car park itself, and ancillary damage to the shopping centre, which has been closed since.
Business owners were dealt a blow two weeks later, when the shopping centre owners issued a statement, on September 14, confirming that demolition was due to start a week later and warning that it could be summer 2020 before the centre would be rebuilt and ready to reopen.
“An initial area for demolition has been identified but given the extent of the damage, additional areas may have to be added as the damaged areas get exposed and inspected up close,” read the statement.
The extent of the rebuild will depend on the amount of the demolition. More on the rebuild time-frame will be known once demolition is complete.
More than two weeks on from the statement, demolition has yet to start. It was not clear last night whether planning permission or a demolition licence has been sought.
Traders say the channels of communications have broken down and they are in limbo. Some have already gone out of business, jobs have been lost, other workers have had to relocate, and traders still do not know if the timelines outlined last month are still relevant.
In the meantime, the traders have been examining possible alternative solutions pending the rebuild.
They have also engaged retail expert Terry Coleman, who previously represented the interests of traders in Wilton Shopping Centre in several complex negotiations with various landlords and developers, to intervene on their behalf.
Mr Coleman chaired the traders’ meeting yesterday and said he has now been asked to request a meeting with Neil Love, a representative of the centre’s owners, and with the head of strategic and economic development in Cork City Council, Fearghal Reidy, to discuss the short-term plans for the shopping centre and, pending an update, the various medium to long-term options for traders, including the potential temporary retail park.
“I will be asking, on the traders’ behalf, for communication and clarity on the timelines for demolition and rebuilding,” said Mr Coleman.
The lack of communication at the moment is denying them the ability to be able to move forward.
The traders know their mini retail park plan will not suit all businesses affected by the fire, including those with strict security requirements, such as the post office.
They also know that it will require the agreement of landowners and the local authority.
However, they said that in the absence of clear information about the future of the shopping centre, all options should be considered.
On September 7, the city council introduced one-hour of free parking, Mondays to Saturdays, in the village for September. It is not clear yet if the measure will be extended to October.