The long-discussed and even longer delayed North Wharf development will require an anchor tenant to ensure vibrancy, energy and footfall, according to Waterford City Councillors.
This was one of a series of ideas floated by Councillors following the presentation of the final draft of the North Quays Urban Design Framework Plan by urban designer Conor Norton of Loci.
Loci’s overall vision for the North Quays was widely welcomed by Councillors who are anxious to see the rejuvenation of the derelict site begin at the earliest possible juncture.
But ensuring that the activity-free atmosphere that prevails around John Roberts Square nightly is not replicated across the river was commented upon by several Councillors at their November meeting.
“It’s important that we learn from other areas of the city which have been recently developed,” said Cllr Tom Cunningham. “Developments have to maintain a life and vibrancy, especially in our city centre because there is currently a shortage of activity after sunset.
“To extend life into the North Quays is going to require, I feel, the provision of a cultural element…which would provide the people of Waterford with an emotional attachment to the area, so that it wouldn’t be seen as a remote location.”
The provision of an anchor tenant into the facility was commented upon by Cllrs Davy Walsh and Tom Murphy. “A hotel within the development is, in my view, an essential feature for the North Wharf,” said Cllr Walsh.
“If you look at similar projects in Swansea and Cork, you see the significance of having such facilities in place. There are also lessons we could learn from the Belfast Waterfront development, which, if done here in Waterford, could bring new life and employment to the area.”
But Cllr Walsh said he wouldn’t be in favour of floating restaurants or night clubs being attached to the proposed development.
Cllr Murphy said a new hotel; perhaps containing a conference centre would offer business groups and tourists alike with a new option when considering Waterford as a place to stay or discuss business.
Cllr Pat Hayes described the site as “a unique opportunity” for the city, which would “restore an old connection between Ferrybank and the river”.
He added: “One of the things we’ve got to give due care to is the type of roof top that would be used here. I’d hate to think we’d go down a route where (from Gracedieu) we’d be looking down on flat roofs and utility buildings on top of the new development…
“There is tremendous support from people in Rockenham, Bishopsgrove and Marymount and I hope we will engage with the people of the area to seek their views on the way ahead.”
Cllr Davy Daniels said it was vital that an already protracted process would not be allowed to “drift and drift,” claiming that the proposal would make Waterford “the envy of many cities, not only in Ireland but abroad”.
Conor Norton told the Council that negotiations with one developer were “at an early stage” but that they were “keen to get moving”. And while the site’s other developer hadn’t forwarded any ideas to his office, Mr Norton intimated to Councillors that “both seemed to be very much in support of the process”.
Cllr Joe Kelly contended that the site “was probably the biggest eyesore in the city” at the moment, commenting that the ‘raising’ potential of the North Wharf, as illustrated by the warehousing on site, provided an eminently acceptable high rise option.
“If there’s ever a site in the city where (high rise) could be done, then this is it,” he said.
On the height issue, Mr Norton suggested that five to six-storey high developments would offer a sensible scale in terms of the site’s overall proportion. “We don’t think that this plan should be concentrating on height – it’s about appropriate development.”
Cllr Jack Walsh said the redevelopment should open its doors to all Waterfordians. “We want this place to be alive and to be active,” he said.
“We need families here, we need the elderly here, we need the whole community here. The design will have to be sympathetic in all of these respects. This is a chance to re-invigorate the city.”