At this time last year I wrote about the scandal of Clerys being closed for its third Christmas. The doors were shut for trading in June 2015, with Christmas 2018 as the fourth Christmas with the shutters firmly down. However there are changes afoot.
Another new consortium
In October 2018 another international consortium of three companies closed the sale of the building for a whopping €63 million. The previous consortium, Natrium, paid €29 million for the building back in October 2015. Not a bad return (117%!) for waiting a few years for the economy to recover and getting that all important planning permission from Dublin City Council in 2016.
What will we see there now?
The new owners have put in some nostalgic and elaborate window displays to show Clerys through the decades, as in the image above. This is a big improvement from previous Christmas seasons when it has looked decidedly dowdy. Last year the windows ironically stated “Christmas starts here”.
And plans for the future? Retail units will occupy the lower ground, ground and first floors, with restaurant/café/bar facilities on the ground level also, plus a hotel and nearly 90,000 sq. ft. of office space, which is a good move given current demand. Who wouldn’t want an O’Connell Street address? Construction is due to begin in early 2019.
What about the workers?
Immediately after the sale on 12th June 2015 there was a High Court application to appoint liquidators. The shutters were pulled down at 6pm for the last time and the staff were told that the store was closing the same day. Statutory redundancy was all that they could expect in compensation for such summary treatment, with the bill of €2.5 million being picked up by the state, or rather the tax payer.
The public relations nightmare that followed for Natrium has been more than compensated for by the sale price this year. By March 2017, SIPTU had negotiated a “substantial” settlement on behalf of the 130 workers, with an agreement for employment on the redeveloped site. The Justice for Clerys Workers Campaign said,
“The agreement includes clauses concerning the employment of former Clerys workers, local training and employment programmes as well as measures to ensure the safeguarding and development of the cultural and historical importance of the site.”
Why are commercial buildings left vacant?
So the corner is turned at last for Clerys. But it’s the property developers who have profited from its closure and not the people who had worked hard within its walls for many years. This whole saga reminds me of the stories of the boom years leading up to the crash of 2008.
And whilst I’m on a rant, what about the Carlton Cinema Building closed for 24 years since 1994? There is talk of redevelopment but we’ve heard that before. The former Dockrell’s Hardware Store on South Great George’s Street has also been empty since at least the 1990’s. This building was sold for €7 million in 2015. Planning permission has been submitted this year for a 100-room hotel, a restaurant and three retail units – and about time! These two examples are representative of a long list of buildings that have been left empty for years.
There’s something not quite right that these landmark buildings on the premier streets of our capital city can remain closed and unoccupied for years and even decades.
So my Bah Humbug moment is over again for this year. My Christmas wish for last year was to see more light and business activity on O’Connell Street by this year. We now have more light with the new window displays but no business activity. We’ll probably have to wait until Christmas 2020 for that.
Happy Christmas and Happy Retailing!
© Retail Renewal 13/12/18
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