The first City Centre Management Group (CCMG) meeting of 2018 took place on 11th January. The Group welcomed Nora Widger, Commercial Director Theatre Royal, representing the City’s arts community and Michael Murphy, President WIT Students Union, representing the City’s young people and students.
The main focus of the meeting were a number of ongoing issues currently being experienced in and around the City. In addition updates were received from the main lead agencies, including Waterford Chamber, Waterford Business Group, Waterford Council and the Gardai, in relation to the City’s current Action Plan.
One of the foremost issues, concerning businesses and citizens alike, in the City Centre, is that of the continuing concerns around teenage anti-social behaviour. A new working group, which will be chaired by Cllr Eddie Mulligan, was approved by Lar Power, Deputy CEO of Waterford Council and Chair CCMG. The initial aim of this committee will be to consult and review ALL the issues brought to the group, by all stakeholders and youth agencies, before reporting back with recommendations to the CCMG. Volunteers to the committee are Cllr Breda Brennan, Claire Loughnane (Waterford Council), Michael Murphy (WIT Students Union), Brian Moore (Waterford Port) and a Garda nomination.
An updated City Health Check, for 1st July to 31st December 2017, was presented by Billy Duggan, Waterford Council Economic Department and reviewed by all in attendance. This report detailed some very positive changes to the City, since the CCMG was formed in early 2013.
Cllr Mulligan stated, “I can remember, not so long back, when there was very little footfall in the Michael Street area of the City and property vacancy was almost 50%, in this particular street. Michael Street and John Street needed such a cleanup that following our lobbying to the CCMG, Waterford Council painted the buildings on Michael Street and John Street to start the renaissance of this area!”
The 2nd City Health Check, produced by the CCMG in July 2014, showed a vacancy rate of 18% for City Centre shop occupancy. Highlighting that one in five businesses premises were closed or empty in the City.
Fast forward to January 2018 and the 2017 City Health Check shows the vacancy rate is now around 5%, which means that only one in twenty businesses are closed or empty in the City.
Cllr Mulligan credits the people of Waterford for a change in attitude to supporting local businesses and shops.
“A focused, hard working CCMG team, which initiated game changing projects such as Purple Flag accreditation and Safe City, are now seeing results. With Waterford Council delivering competitive, extra parking spaces in areas like the new Waterside car park. The delivery of targeted economic support Grants, to encourage new businesses to occupy empty buildings. All helping to turn the fortunes for the City”, stated Cllr Mulligan.
In July 2014 there were 4,095 parking spaces, in the City and in January 2018 there are 4,400 spaces. With €1 per hour and €3.60 per day parking available in Council car parks and all car parks are reporting increased occupancy.
Five years ago, another key aim of the CCMG was to work together, with stakeholders, to increase footfall. To encourage Waterford’s people to rediscover their City. Then widen the remit to target the 500,000 people across the South East, to make Waterford City their number one destination of choice for shopping, recreation and tourism.
Various programmes were initiated to ensure a much greater connectivity between the Viking Triangle and the heart of the City Centre, John Roberts Square. In addition, it would be essential to revitalise the public realm spaces and develop areas such as The Applemarket. A possible new Cultural Quarter for O’ Connell Street and the North Quays SDZ, were all tackled.
The Health Check also showed that, as at January 2018, the City is waiting, with bated breath, the fast tracking our City’s development on the North Quays, an action plan has now been created to deliver a Cultural Quarter and The Applemarket regeneration has been completed, with extraordinary success.
The success of these achievements over the last five years was reflected with at least 15 new businesses, including Chopped, Regatta and TRM opening during 2017. Increasing footfall numbers, which according to Cllr Mulligan should attract the attention of high order retailers to invest in the City. New footfall counters were installed around the City, in early 2017 and comparing like with like shows there has been a 48% increase in footfall, over the past five years, in areas such as Georges Street, this traditionally being the highest footfall street in the City. These footfall counters also show that the pillar festivals and events, such as Spraoi, Harvest Festival, Winterval and Summer in the City, are vital footfall generators.
According to Cllr Mulligan, “It is rewarding to be the IBAL cleanest City in Ireland. The majority of retailers and businesses in the City reporting some sort of economic stability in 2017, for the first time in ten years. It is with a renewed confidence and a successful collaborative strategy, supported by Waterford Council, that we can now visualise a City, which will, in the foreseeable future, regain our rightful place as the economic driver of the South East.”