Cork’s historic Coal Quay needs a new vision, City Hall has admitted, conceding that its original vision of creating a thriving market precinct “hasn’t been fully realised”.
The admission comes amid renewed calls for a masterplan or blueprint to guide the future development of the Coal Quay or Cornmarket Street area — the home of the city’s street-market tradition.
Officials told city councillors that they are working on some new initiatives in a bid to breathe new life into the area in the short term.
It is understood that near-derelict and vacant sites are being considered for public use. The details are still being worked on and it could be several months before the initiatives are unveiled.
However, officials accept that a longer-term strategy to reimagine the future of the historic former market area is now needed.
“The falling away of the traditional form of trading is a reality, but also represents an exciting opportunity,” said the city’s head of corporate affairs, Paul Moynihan.
He made his comments after councillors debated the future of the area, prompted by a motion from Fianna Fáil councillor Tim Brosnan. Mr Brosnan called on City Hall to engage with property owners on Cornmarket St with a view to exploring the reinstatement of the ‘Irish market’ selling art, crafts, and souvenirs.
He said it could operate seven days a week during peak tourist season and would provide an alternative trading location for the current fixed stalls, which, he said, are “beginning to deteriorate”.
“The proposal has merit and should be considered as part of a wider action plan to develop and enhance the type and nature of trading on Cornmarket St,” said Mr Moynihan.
During a debate on the proposal, Mr Moynihan said the council has been trying to several years to realise a vision for the area. The council ploughed some €4m into a complete overhaul of the street and its stalls in 2011 in a bid to create a thriving open-air market.
However, Mr Moynihan said: “I’d be codding people if I said that vision has been realised fully.”
Most of the stalls in the area are idle, with one or two trading for a few hours on weekends only.
Last year, publican Benny McCabe, who runs the Bodega and The Rising Sons bars on Cornmarket St, sparked a debate about the area after the Irish Examiner reported that he was considering legal action against the city because rarely used market stalls are blocking the listed building which houses the Bodega.
Mr McCabe welcomed the news from City Hall.
“Every good city has its old town and, in Cork, it’s Cornmarket St and North Main St,” he said. “I’ve seen areas like it in New York’s East Side and in parts of Barcelona. It would take relatively little investment to push this in the right direction.”
Independent councillor Kieran McCarthy said: “It is an historic area but we don’t make enough of it.”
Fianna Fáil councillor John Sheehan said investment in a craft market would fit in well with the city’s “historic spine”, and his party colleague, Tony Fitzgerald suggested that elements of the Glow Christmas festival be extended to Cornmarket St this year.
However, Mr Moynihan said any blueprint for the area would need consultation with existing traders and other stakeholders to ensure its “deliverability and success”, and would also need to be funded.