Culture Club

S1Pic1WATERFORD’S O’Connell Street has been under the spotlight recently for a whole variety of reasons.
Many feel that the area has been neglected and concerns have been expressed over anti-social behaviour and the overall appearance of the area.
Many local business owners have campaigned for changes to the Council’s parking rules in order to attract more people to the area.
This has resulted in Waterford City & County Council implementing a maximum of one hour’s parking on the street on a temporary basis.
Local businesses have also supported attempts to brighten up the area through the use of floral decorations and many have painted their own premises.
Now, the wider issue of transforming O’Connell Street looks set to be addressed by the local authority.
A discussion document was brought before the Metropolitan District meeting of Waterford City & Council last week with the aim of developing a ‘cultural quarter’ on O’Connell Street.
The award winning Granary Café, located on the corner of O’Connell Street and Hanover Street, was specifically mentioned during discussions as being the meeting point of “two O’Connell Streets”.
Cllr Eamon Quinlan (FF) pointed out that the first stretch from George’s Street to The Granary already resembles a type of ‘cultural quarter’, but it was acknowledged that the other stretch from The Granary to the Fitzwilton Hotel is in “a worse off position”.
The importance of having WIT’s Architecture Department located in The Granary building was also highlighted by Cllr Cha O’Neill (Ind).
Peter Fowler is proprietor of The Granary Café and has first-hand experience of the “two O’Connell Streets” issue.
He has also seen how the presence of WIT’s Architecture Department has helped transform the area.
“It works very well,” he said.
“It’s great to have such vibrancy here and that lends an overall atmosphere to the whole street.”
He points to a day when students were showcasing their projects on Hanover Street.
“The students were preparing their final projects and some had outdoor installations featuring colourful flags,” he explained.
“It was a sunny day and everything seemed to fit into place. The customers coming into the café were all commenting on the lovely activity. You can’t buy that atmosphere.”
O’Connell Street’s ‘tributary streets’ are to be included in the development of a ’cultural quarter’.
Hanover Street is hugely important as it is a fully pedestrianised street which links O’Connell Street and The Quay.
However, Peter believes the fact that it’s pedestrianised needs to be further utilised.
Spraoi has successfully staged events on the street during their annual festival for the past few years, and Waterford Harvest Festival also involved the street in their activities a few years ago.
Peter would like to see more events take place on Hanover Street as he says this would enhance the atmosphere.
But there are other issues which also need to be addressed.
“There can be a lot of anti-social behaviour around this area, especially after 5pm,” said Peter.
He has a loyal customer base which regularly visits the café for delicious breakfasts and lunches or a coffee and one of the may tempting snacks available.
The café is a popular meeting place for local business people and the outside seating area has a European feel.
However, Peter says it can be difficult to attract customers from the main city centre area.
“It’s certainly a difficulty,” he said.
“Our regular customers come here as they know where we are. If I see a strange face, I always ask how they found us. Some say they saw our billboard advertisement while walking along The Quay or that they saw the chairs outside and it attracted them. But, by and large, most people say that they found us by accident.”
He says many people don’t venture any further once they have reached the end of George’s Street.
He says it would be helpful if there were more reasons to venture down O’Connell Street.
“I’m a great believer in critical mass. The more activities you have on a street, the better it is for all businesses concerned,” he said.
“Tully’s, for example, has become the hippest, coolest bar to be seen in. Tully’s feeds off Garter Lane at night and I feed off Garter Lane during the day. We are all feeding off each other, and the more we bring to an area, the better we all do. And if a nice café or restaurant opens up next to me, that would be fantastic. It would add to the mixture and give people another reason to come down O’Connell Street.”
He says he has huge respect for the work being done in Garter Lane and believes that its success is one of the main reasons why a ‘cultural quarter’ idea for O’Connell Street is even being considered.
“For a theatre it’s size, it really punches way above its weight,” he said.
The possibility of a Temple Bar style area has been suggested, but Peter, who hails from Dublin, believes that O’Connell Street should look at being the type of ‘cultural quarter’ which Temple Bar was originally envisaged as being.
“I was a teenager in the years that Temple Bar was the area that U2 and the Boomtown Rats were rehearsing,” he said.
“It was a pity that it didn’t keep going that way and become a real creative quarter. The idea of a ‘cultural quarter’ for O’Connell Street is great but you still need a hook to hang it on. I think the idea of how Temple Bar started out, being a hub for up and coming new bands and rehearsal studios, wouldn’t be a bad starting point for O’Connell Street.”
He believes the possibilities are endless and highlights the potential of the buildings located on O’Connell Street.
“Whenever I’m walking down to my accountant MK Brazil, which is another great business located on O’Connell Street, I take a look at what is around me. The street has so much – beautiful arches, keystones, lovely laneways. Just look at the building which Garter Lane studios uses and the lovely steps up to it.”
He added: “If the powers that be combine the input of the architecture students here in The Granary with their own conservation know now, then there is so much potential.”
O’Connell Street may not be an area that you would immediately think of as benefitting from the Waterford Greenway.
However, the Waterford Greenway Bike Hire depot recently opened on Hanover Street and is already attracting large amounts of tourists to the area.
On any given day, Hanover Street is now a hive of activity as cyclists test out their bikes before heading off for a Greenway adventure.
“People are coming from all over the country,” said Tomas Campbell from Fenor who works at the depot.
“People are coming down for the day from Dublin. We had an American couple recently who had heard about the Greenway when travelling around Ireland and came to Waterford especially to do it.”
But it’s not just tourists that are making their way to Hanover Street and hiring a bike.
“Locals are also hiring a bike and heading off on the Greenway. They think it’s great to have somewhere they can cycle with the kids that’s safe,” explained Tomas.
Waterford Greenway Bike Hire offers a wide range of different bikes to cater for all shapes, sizes and ages and Tomas says that Hanover Street is the ideal city location due to its wide space.
“We need to make sure all the cyclists are kitted out properly, check their saddle height, check that the frame of the bike is suitable for them etc. On Hanover Street, they can cycle around and try out their bike and, if it’s not suitable for them, they can come back in and get a different bike.”
The business also has depots in Kilmacthomas and Dungarvan and operates a shuttle bus between all three locations.
There is a symbiotic relationship between the Waterford Greenway Bike Hire depot and The Granary Café, as Tomas outlined.
“It’s great for us that people have somewhere to go when they are waiting for the shuttle bus. The Granary is such a lovely place for people to go and get a coffee while they wait,” he said.
Peter Fowler has already seen the impact of the presence of so many Greenway users in the area.
“I‘ve spoken to people in the café that say their friends from Dublin and Kerry have come to Waterford to do the Greenway. Just because of a cycling track, we are bringing people from across the country to Waterford for weekends. It’s fantastic,” he said.
At the moment, the nearest Waterford Greenway access point is at Bilberry.
However, Tomas and his colleagues at Waterford Greenway Bike Hire will be able to capitalise further when the Greenway comes into the Quay.
This project came a step closer this week thanks to the announcement by Minister of State John Halligan of €1.6 million in funding to complete the Greenway.
“Some people aren’t comfortable going up on the road to Bilberry yet, so it will be great when it comes as far as The Quay,” said Tomas.
When the Waterford Greenway is eventually brought into the Quay, Peter Fowler believes there is huge potential for Hanover Street to be an unofficial starting point and a Greenway ‘hub’.
He says that this would fit in with the idea of a ‘cultural quarter’.
“It makes so much sense for so many reasons,” he said.
He has also ideas on how Hanover Street can further progress and fully capitalise on the spin-off effect of the Waterford Greenway.
“Some customers have seen all of the signage about the Greenway but are not quite sure what it is all about so I suggested to the powers that be that a quirky addition to the whole Greenway experience would be to draw a map along the centre of Hanover Street which would provide a pictorial representation of the Greenway route, including icons of different features along the route,” he explained.
“While people are walking up and down waiting for their bikes, this would be a quirky, talking point. The Council supports the Waterford Walls project which involves placing murals on the wall, so what I’m suggesting is a mural on the ground.”
Thanks to the activities associated with the Greenway, WIT’s Architecture Department, Spraoi and the Granary Café, Hanover Street could well become the template for what can be achieved throughout O’Connell Street – so watch this space!

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