Business owners on a busy street in Cork City have united behind an ‘eat-on-the street’ plan they hope will allow its many restaurants and bars to reopen when Covid-19 restrictions are lifted. The group on Cork’s Princes St have presented a proposal to city officials that would see the street, which links Oliver Plunkett St to the South Mall, closed to vehicular traffic and turned into an outdoor dining area.
“We have to sell hope for people and we hope people will jump on board the hope train,” said Paul Montgomery, of the revamped Clancy’s bar and restaurant.
Claire Nash, of Nash 19, said there is little traffic on the street during the day given the pedestrianisation of nearby Oliver Plunkett St but their proposal seeks to have vehicles barred from the street into the evenings too.
“The lockdown, if it has given us anything, has given us brain space to be creative again with our businesses. But it will be like opening a new business again — only this time trying to do it with one hand tied behind your back and a knapsack of debt on your back,” she said.
Princes St has up to a dozen eateries, serving everything from seafood to tapas, from Chinese to Italian food.
Salvatore Toscano, who runs Ristorante Rossini’s, said they had to slash their capacity from 144 seats to 70 the weekend before the lockdown in mid-March to comply with physical distancing guidelines: “Serving 70 is just not sustainable in the long-term. We need to serve over 100 diners on weekend nights to make it viable.”
“So we are hoping to make use of the street outside. We feel that by sitting people outside, it will make them feel more confident about dining out, and will mitigate some of the challenges we in this industry will face. In many ways, we are all competitors but business draws business. We won’t recover unless we work together.”
Mr Montgomery, who is part of a consortium which has invested €5m in the reopening of Clancy’s, said businesses want to reopen in a safe way for staff and their customers: “Dining in the open air will give people a certain confidence that they can dine in a safe environment.”
“We have a broad proposal, and we have a lot of work done but we are working on the finer detail now. We feel this is a pilot project that could be used as a template elsewhere in the city.”
Ms Nash, who has had to rebuild her business after several floods, said she feels a real sense of having to start again this time. “If we are throwing our heart and soul and our savings into reopening, we need the Government to give us guidelines and then let us get on with reopening our businesses in creative ways,” she said.
Their proposal is being considered by City Hall.
Fearghal Reidy, the city council’s head of economic and strategic development, said the council wants to help businesses and will adopt a “solutions-focused” approach as restrictions are eased but he warned that it will be challenging in places.
He said pedestrianisation of certain areas is being considered and a streamlined street furniture licensing process will be introduced to allow certain business operations spill onto the street, where it works and where it has been proofed against movement and ensuring access for all.