I know it’s good to accentuate the positive and ignore the negative. I know that it’s in all our interests to ‘talk up’ the city and I’m all for putting a positive spin on the place, but, (and you must have seen the ‘but’ coming) at the moment there is a great big elephant in the room. I’m talking about neglected buildings and the owners that just don’t give a damn about the city, its inhabitants, visitors, and quite obviously, themselves.

There are many examples but one of the biggest offenders has to be the former Ardree Hotel site. I have no idea who owns it now but somebody, somewhere does even if it is a business or banking institution. There she sits like a grotesque Marie Celeste, staring down at our lovely city with barely a pane of glass, dirty billowing curtains, menacing graffiti defacing the exterior and wildly overgrown grounds. It’s like a hotel from hell and getting uglier by the minute. If I find it offensive and subconsciously “tut tut” every time I see it, what must tourists think? Of course to add insult to injury some Kilkenny vandals added even more graffiti recently in the Kilkenny colours and sprayed large ‘5’s’ into the window spaces. I used to feel quite sad when I looked at the increasing dilapidation but these latest additions add further distaste and the emotion is now turning to anger. (The contempt of Kilkenny delinquents knows no limits, but that’s for another day’s wrath entirely.)

Take a stroll down historic George’s Street and as you approach the junction with O’Connell Street there is yet another visual nightmare. Just past the magnificence of the old Harbour Master’s Building, La Boheme Restaurant and a trendy hair salon you slap up against the horror on the laneway corner. This empty monstrosity has declined rapidly in recent times and now wouldn’t look out of place in a derelict, gangland area of New York circa 1980. This big, paint peeling assault on the eyes is screaming, “Nobody cares!” Needless to remark on this same street sits one of our treasured theatre and art spaces, Garter Lane, and several other businesses trying to put on a good face and attract customers in these difficult times. It is also en route to the Waterford Museum of Treasures, one of the city’s premier tourist destinations. Isn’t it nice that we provide such superb examples of modern day urban decay for our holiday makers?

Parched travelers in a desert

I’m sick of seeing city centre buildings crying out for a lick of paint or a power wash like a desperately, parched traveller in the dessert. What is wrong with the owners of these structures? Do they all live out of town and are unaware of the state of their properties or maybe they just don’t give a toss. I totally accept that we live in a free country where you are entitled to present yourself or your property in whatever state you wish as long as it doesn’t pose a safety risk to others. I appreciate that we can’t go around slapping our own personal standards on others but don’t we have a right to expect people to behave reasonably? When your property or behaviour is affecting the general environment that is shared by other human beings don’t you have a moral responsibility to ensure that you are not contributing to misery and general demise?

It’s hard to believe that I can own a building and leave it to rot, threatening all the other buildings and businesses around it and I am not easily held accountable: yet I can be jailed for not paying my TV licence. It is also interesting to think that most of these buildings are owned by individuals or organisations that are seen as upstanding members of society. This is one social problem that we can’t lay at the feet of the disadvantaged, the unemployed or some ethnic minority. Ironically the owners of these properties are more than likely the types that often bemoan the social problems and activities of the so called underclass. Well let’s be clear, the owners or individuals responsible for these buildings are no better than an untalented hoodie with a can of spray paint; both are destroying our city.

Not pretty, us?

Several years ago TV presenter Jill Dando visited Waterford for a travel programme. I remember we were all a little miffed when she referred to it as, “Not the prettiest of cities…….” What would a travel presenter think of it today? Missing letters from signage, unsightly wires hanging everywhere, scuffed and discoloured shop fronts, dirty windows; it’s collectively destroying the overall look of the place and in essence says “We’ve given up”. If Waterford City were a person there are areas where it conjures a flabby muffin top, gum chewing, angry adolescent wearing ill fitting, washed out velour tracksuit bottoms, dirty and fraying at the hems with just a fading glue outline left where the ‘sexy’ slogan once was.

The Chamber of Commerce is trying its best, the city council is doing outstanding work, shopkeepers, hotels and other business are trying to keep up smart appearances. All the stakeholders are attempting to come up with fresh, inspiring ideas to attract new business and people to Waterford and yet these renegade property owners, individuals and organisations, are virtually urinating on all these efforts. Meanwhile we are just standing by and letting it happen. Somebody knows who these people are, I think it’s time for a little naming and shaming, don’t you?