Vacant retail units and stagnant footfall levels in Waterford City Centre urgently need to be addressed, according to a local Councillor. Figures from Waterford City Centre Management Group’s Health Check Report show that footfall levels for the first half of 2019 remain on par with 2018 figures.
However, Cllr Eddie Mulligan (FF) believes footfall in the city centre should be increasing as a result of recent substantial investments.Although millions of euro have been spent by Waterford City & County Council on various public realms works, such as at the Apple Market, Cllr Mulligan says city centre footfall levels do not reflect this.
“We need to be increasing footfall,” says Cllr Mulligan. “Waterford City, as the largest urban area in the South-East, is striving to become the regional capital. There are many examples of international cities that have failed to address and promote their city centres as the economic driver. These cities have seen substantial declines in, not only retail investment, but the lifeblood of any city which is footfall.”
The large vacancy rate within the core city centre area is also a cause of ongoing concern. According to the Waterford City Centre Management Group, the current street level vacancy rate in Waterford City Centre is 12.3 per cent. This represents a total of 20 vacancies in the core city centre – half of which are located within shopping centres. Included in the audit, which was conducted in June, were Barronstrand Street, John Roberts Square, Broad Street, Georges Street, George’s Court Shopping Centre, Arundel Square, City Square and Michael Street.
During the first six months of 2019, three new retail units opened in Waterford City Centre while three have also closed. One of the latest additions to Waterford City Centre’s retail offering is Mountain Warehouse which has opened at the former Sam McCauley premises on Broad Street. On June 5th, 29 potential investors visited Waterford and received a detailed presentation, met with successful retailer ambassadors in Waterford and undertook a walking tour of the city highlighting the opportunities in Waterford. This was part of an engagement between Waterford City & County Council and David Fitzsimons, Retail Excellence Insight, in order to target potential retail investors.
Meanwhile, John Spain Associates have been appointed to undertake a review of current retail strategies.
This will culminate with a unitary retail stagey for Waterford City and County, considering in detail the retail function in the County. The review will be informed by consultation with the general public, key stakeholders and household/shopper surveys. Following an invitation for written submissions, 12 submissions were received.
It’s intended that the Retail Strategy Review will be completed by the end of 2019 in time to inform the City and County Development Plan. Prompted by concerns over vacancy rates and stagnant footfall, Cllr Mulligan has reiterated his calls for the appointment of a specific City Manager.
“As we aspire to be the retail, tourism and recreational destination of choice for the 604,000 living within one hour of the city, we need the city centre driven forward from a marketing and operational aspect,” he said.
“Whilst I unsuccessfully proposed the requirement for a City Centre Manager previously, who would report directly to the CEO, I still feel this position is an absolute necessity as we drive forward the city’s development in accordance with Ireland 2040 National Planning Framework. This position is a necessity to fill a void on operational, management and marketing priorities with a seniority to engage with all Directors to ensure Waterford becomes the Destination of Choice for the South East.”