The city council last week issued proposlas for the North Wharf. While this may not be the definitive plan, it represents a good guideline for the future. The eventual developer in charge may have other ideas and may want to put his/her own imprint on the project. Waterford City Council was told that the plans could be expedited in 12 months under certain circumstances and no undue hold-ups.
Waterford city is crying out for more investment. The delays to the Stephen St. development means that, if planning permission is granted by An Bord Pleanala, it will take a few years for that project to be completed. We are falling behind as we found out over Christmas when much spending went elsewhere, in particular to Cork, Dublin and Kilkenny. At least in the coming year we will have a new shopping centre in Ferrybank.
Additional facilities in the North Wharf will complement this development, it is hoped. The new North Wharf plan will be on display for eight weeks and gives the pubic a chance to make a submission on same. In other cities, docklands have been developed very successfully and the report shows just how similar areas in Dublin and Limerick were developed.
In Waterford, it is intended to have 50 per cent commercial and 50 per cent residential. The loss of the Ardree hotel means that the city could do with a large 4 star hotel or Radisson style international brand with first class conference facilities. Cabinet member Martin Cullen, when he was Minister at the Office of Public Works, spoke strongly in favour of such a conference facility.
Kilkenny is doing well from this market and while Waterford had been getting a reasonable share of that business, a larger facility is needed to compete for the bigger events. Similarly, families staging very large weddings are finding it hard to secure adequate accommodate in existing hotels if the guest-list is over 350 persons. A large hotel plus a conference centre featuring retail outlets on the ground floor would be a great boost for the city.
Apartment demand is sluggish at present as the trend for privately owned apartment living has not yet taken off compared to Cork or Dublin. These factors will have to be taken into consideration by investors and the local authority.
Unfortunately for Waterford, the delays in the project mean that the property boom has been missed and, with prices now stagnating, the economics of the project may change. On the positive side the costs of construction may be less as there is more competition among builders.
We would hope that the various interest groups in the city would respond to the City Council initiative and ensure that the future is consolidated by seeing to it that what is best for the city and the region is built on the North Wharf.
Some will advocate a decentralisation project for the site, but perhaps the Ring road would be better for this type of facility. Tourism, conferences and shopping seem more suitable.
An arts building might also be an option. The city of Newcastle has an excellent art facility on the banks of the Tyne, paid for by the state with a millennium pedestrian bridge connecting both sides of the river.
A visit there would show how an industrial city can be turned around and given visitor appeal, especially for short break tourism. Newcastle also hosted the Tall Ships after Waterford a few years ago.