Cork City Council have requested further information from Tober Investment Company regarding their proposals for the unique Winthrop Arcade. The plans were to remove the arcade element completely, and replace with two stand-alone retail units - one facing Winthrop Street and the other facing on to Oliver Plunkett Street.
The proposal brought a very strong rebuttal from An Taisce and others given the very unique nature of the existing building - it was the first covered shopping arcade in Ireland...basically, the first shopping centre/mall in the country. The interior consists of 8 small glass fronted retail units facing on to the pedestrian arcade with linear and octangal roof lights over. Cast iron columns, bronze-framed glazed and timber framed glazing and ornate clock are just some of the unique features in the building which was built in 1926 after the burning of the city.
The current proposal would remove the individual units, shopfronts, glazing, etc. (with some reassembled to form token decorative features in the new units). The impressive curved glazing to the facades would be replaced with modern glazing and doorways.
In my opinion, this represents the ripping out of the heart of the building. Why protect the mock-tudor facade if you demolish the internal fabric which makes the building unique in this country. A blind acceptance (as the pre-planning talks with CCC suggest) that these changes must be made is ill-thought out and devoid of any concept of diversifying our retail offering. With blocks of retail space about to become available on Patrick Street, there is little demand for the relatively small spaces which this proposal will produce. What is in demand is small, unique and boutique retail spaces for small entrepreneurs and producers - as evidenced by the upsurge in craft and farmers markets, and the continuing success of the English Market. With a small bit of imagination, these units would provide an excellent and unique shopping experience for locals and shoppers alike.
As the An Taisce submission notes:"the building is unique in the city and the loss of the fixtures and fittings would be tragic and avoidable, what is required here is some imagination whereby the existing building is maintained and uses compatible with its scale devised with some craft-type industry in conjuntion with the Craft Council where the product is show-cased in the existing units".
Despite its resigned attitude in pre-planning, lets hope CCC has a little more imagination than we sometimes give it credit for. If not, I suspect An Bord Pleanala will be involved.