Following up on a boards.ie discussion entitled "what could be done to make Castlebar a better town", here’s my “vision”. If some or all of these ideas could come true, it would bring so much to the town: employment, tourism, pride, cash !!
First, I think to make it happen, finance would have to be raised through something like a public/private investment vehicle with the aim of transforming the town centre into one of the country's most vibrant communities and reinvigorating the Main Street back into the focal point of the County Town.
So you probably will need a group of ex-pat type millionaire investors that are either from or have close ties to Castlebar and together with funding from e.g. Castlebar Town Council, Mayo County Council, Failte Ireland and Tourism Ireland, come together with the common goal of making Castlebar a go-to tourist destination.
Here’s the list of potential developments that could put Castlebar back on the map !
1. The Main Street to be permanently pedestrianised from Bolands Corner at the junction of Linenhall Street/Lucan Street up to Parsons Corner with a controlled intersection to take traffic from Heneghan's side coming from Shambles Street across to Castle Street. The pedestrianised street then to continue from the Eddie Egans corner of Ellison Street up as far as the Irish House corner.
2. The entire length of the pedestrianised Main street and Ellison Street section to be covered in it's entirety with a special weatherproof ETFE cushion roof canopy supplied and installed by a specialist installer such as the UK company Architen Landrel (could’nt find an Irish one ! ). ETFE foil has the advantages of glass but at a more affordable cost and very fast installation time. The structure would protect the public from the wind and rain but keep an environment that is light and airy, using natural light. (A similar example of what could be built can be seen from 2min 15 secs to 2 mins 21 secs on the following Youtube video of their work in Wakefield's Trinity Walk Shopping Centre in the UK:
Note how well the light continues to come through the canopy). In other words, Castlebar Town Centre could become weather proof which would open up the opportunities for the following developments.
3. The public/private consortium could take ownership of numerous commercial premises (both vacant & occupied) along the full length of the new pedestrianised zone and spaced out evenly could e.g. develop 4 x Cafe/Coffee Shops with external heated seating areas onto the street, 5 x Fully Licensed Restaurants with external heated seating areas onto the street , 3 x Gastro Pubs & 3 x "late bar" Entertainment Pubs all with external heated seating areas onto the street , 1 x late bar "SuperPub" type entertainment venue (say up on the site of the former Flannellys Bar) and 1 x Riverside Entertainment Complex on e.g. the site of Elverys Sports at the bottom of Main Street which could house a 2,000 capacity multi floor nightclub/ live music venue, bar & restaurant with external heated seating areas in an architectly designed & landscaped courtyard fronting onto Main Street marking the beginning of the "Entertainment Zone" which could be a bustling hive of activity 7 days a week particularly Thursday – Sunday nights & would make Castlebar Town Centre resemble a top European city centre for al fresco drinking & dining. Castlebar could have it’s own café culture !
4. A new shopping thoroughfare could be created from Mill Lane at Hynes Corner turning left at the old granary in Hobans Car Park, going up as far as Homemaker Arcade before finally turning left and rejoining the Main Street again. This new set of streets could re-house tenants who's premises were CPO'ed & move them along the new shopping loop in new state of the art retail units.
5. The new traffic route to circle the town centre could continue from Linenhall Street straight down through Lucan Street right at the Springfield Road roundabout up along the new bridge leading into Castle Street car park. A new segregated link road could continue straight up through the car park on the inside wall along the former military barracks eventually veering right to meet the Castle Street intersection. Essentially, to circle the town centre by car, from the mall courthouse, the route will be: Mall, Ellison Street, Market Square, Newtown, Chapel St., Linenhall Street, Lucan Street, Castle Street Car Park, Castle Street and back onto the Mall again.
6. Three new multi level car parks, each holding approx 270 cars could be built. Each one with 3 levels: basement, ground and 1st floor so would have little visual impact compared to the traditional multi level car parks that can be seen in other large towns and cities. These car parks could be designed to blend in seamlessly with the existing environment and make use of traditional front stone walls, tinted and frosted glass windows and little "garden pockets" to create mini green areas along the front, sides and even roofs of the new units. Locate one inside the existing "Kyte" car park on the south side beside The Galway Roast along the river edge, one could be located at the northern side of the same car park just off Mill Lane at Hobans Car Park with a newly created entrance only lane coming off Linenhall street crossing the town river. The third multi level car park could be located midway along the Castle St. car park to avail of the existing pedestrian access points onto Main St. along the Humbert Mall on it's south side and along the existing Elvery's lane on the northern side. Castlebar Town Council should probably abolish all town centre car parking charges even in the new multi level car parks to stimulate economic growth back into the town centre and make Castlebar a retail and social hub for the entire west coast.
7. New five and ten year tax incentives & greatly reduced commercial rates should be applied to existing and particularly new business located along Main St., Ellison St., Tucker St.,Linenhall St., Shamble St., Castle St., Spencer St. & Rush St. This will help existing struggling business to get over the current economic hump and make Castlebar Town Centre an extremely attractive investment opportunity for new business. The sight of dilapidated shop fronts and empty units could be a thing of the past if something like that was done. I think something like that was done in the early 90’s which helped to develop New Antrim St.
8. As Castlebar would become one of the West's top entertainment and leisure capitals, a not-for-profit company should be set up with the remit of attracting, organising, and maintaining a consistent high level of entertainment to ensure Castlebar would have a competitive edge over European cities as a Short Break destination. The company could also look after all the PR for " Destination Castlebar" and be staffed by an experienced team of different professionals with skills in Finance & Accounting, Event Management, Business negotiating, Public Relations, Social Media, Print & Web Design, Information Technology, Tourism etc. Knock Airport could operate regular incoming low fare flights from many UK Airports such as Gatwick, Luton, Standstead, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Cardiff and Anglesey. These are just the flights from the UK....... Incoming regular low fare flights could be organised to arrive in from France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Poland, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Demark, Norway and Switzerland and a new shuttle bus service could be set-up to operate between Castlebar and Knock Airport to cope with the influx of incoming travellers. The new Castlebar Entertainment Agency should work closely with Knock Airport, the Airline Carriers, Failte Ireland and local hotels, guest houses,B&Bs, pubs and nightclubs to ensure "Destination Castlebar" remains competitive and not succumb to the type of price hiking that dominated the Celtic Tiger years. The agency could also help and part fund the organisation of World Class entertainers to come and perform in our biggest venues such as The Royal Theatre and Breaffy House Resort so it could become the norm to see the likes of Beyonce & Van Morrison to be performing in Castlebar on the same night. We have all seen how when a sell-out event in The Royal Theatre such as Dara O Brien in 2011, that there wasn’t a vacant bedroom to be had in any hotel, guesthouse or B&B in the county town. All the restaurants were full that night, the pubs were packed, taxis were busy, takeaways were busy and even retailers experienced increased trade that weekend. The town of Castlebar as a whole benefit from the big sell-out acts so a new agency to ensure funding and promotion is in place so we get the biggest crowd-pullers every weekend in conjunction with our venues, makes sense.
9. The entertainment zone's security could be looked after by a private security firm who could work closely with the Gardai to ensure that no public order offences are committed & keep Castlebar Town Centre safe for all visitors and locals at all times with security personnel patrolling the area late at night & staying in radio contact with door staff from late night venues.
10. A new 100 bedroom 4 star hotel, conference & leisure centre to be developed on the site of the Old Military Barracks and a massive tree-lined landscaping & botanic gardens-like development be part of the hotel grounds which in itself would be a new town-centre tourist attraction for Castlebar. The existing protected military buildings on the site could be utilised in the overall plans. Access to the development could use the existing entrances at the Rock Square end and the Springfield Road roundabout end with a pedestrian walkway running across to the Castle Street Car Park and onward towards Main Street.
11. Castlebar Town Council should sell The Imperial Hotel to the likes of Luxe Worldwide Hotels, a world leader in the development of boutique hotels. The developer should also acquire the entire block down to the former Hanley’s newsagents on Rock Square and all of the Mall Mews development & develop e.g. a 90-bedroom 4 Star boutique hotel with lounge, piano bar, 2 restaurants & coffee shop, some of which front onto the Mall. As The Imperial is a protected building of historical interest, this part of the development should retain it's old world identity and be decorated and furnished with a 19th century influence.
The amount of construction and ancillary staff who would work on the various different projects over the few years of developing all this would create millions to the local economy in that time. How many new full time positions and part time positions would be created on project completion not to mention the knock-on effect to local related suppliers & support industries. I’m estimating that it could give Castlebar an injection of €200 million annually to the local economy.
So is all this achievable ? Can any of these ideas be instigated ? All of this is progress ......... who is afraid of progress ? Yes, such a development would take a lot of money to get off the ground but surely a public/private investment vehicle could be created with a 10-15 year maturity. The return on the investment could be huge for the risk taker after 10 years. Come on Enda ! Make this happen ! This could be your home-town legacy !
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