Cork docklands – dead in the water, almost

A LOT of things got washed downstream in Cork’s 2009 flooding – but gone out even earlier on the tide were the Brave New World hopes of a major docklands redevelopment. Gone are much of the hopes of the likes of key drivers like Howard Holdings – which is now a pale shadow of what it was.

Howards led the posse in grand ambition and got planning in 2009 for a €1bn Atlantic Quarter scheme, with residential towers of 10, 20 and 30 storeys, among other elements.

It has been an annus horribilis for Howard Holdings in any case, shutting its airport investment in Coventry with losses of millions, and with creditors chasing directors on various Irish sites and investments. Much of Howard’s assets and sites have been moved by Anglo Irish Bank to a newly-formed “asset management” entity, Clowater, run by former key personnel.

Howard Holdings had, though, raised the bar of architectural vision for Cork when it delivered the €100 million City Quarter scheme with boardwalk.

Now its offices in City Quarter are quieter than the decks of the Marie Celeste and the model for the €1bn Atlantic Quarter grand project, which graced City Quarter’s foyer, has been pushed to a back corner beyond the lifts. Cork City manger Joe Gavin’s recently reiterated hopes to push on with Howard’s events site in the docks does smack of optimism, but at least this has a hope as a stand-alone venue to replace the canvas of the Marquee of recent years.

Much of the past decade was spent painstakingly bringing together the various strands needed to build a brand-new city quarter just east of the historic city core. In the event – excluding sites selling for tens of millions – what got built? Howards paid nearly €30 million in 2005 for a 12-acre site sold by Ford, as well as €10 million for a half-acre site next to City Hall. Little got built since, although several new office blocks sprung up along Monahan Road.

The €150 million quality job the Elysian, which is more city centre than docklands, may be the tall and cautionary calling card for some time yet to come for high-living visions. 30 or so more units there will be fitted for rental in 2010.

Everybody got caught up in the 1990s excitement and, in fairness, Dublin’s Docklands showed what could be done when dreaming of brave new worlds and city renewal (notwithstanding the morass the DDDA has ended up in after its costly investment in the €412 million Irish Glass Bottle site in Ringsend.)

In Cork, developers, banks, City Hall, planners, architects all lined up for work and urban planners, artists, the media and landowners all bought into the vision of Cork’s future growth going downriver in a sparkle of high-rise buildings, urban parks, offices, an entertainment centre and other amenities.

But how long more the docks plans (no matter how viable in terms of integrated urban planning) will remain a wash-out is anyone’s guess.

Where will the buyers for 6,000 apartments come from? Land values are decimated, but capital costs for major infrastructural works/remediation aren’t going to fall at the same rate.

Bridges alone will swallow over €100 million and the plan also envisages raising the ground level of the entire area to alleviate flooding. Port of Cork/oil tanks need to relocate: to where?

Enthusiasm is being tempered by reality, and recession.


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