At 29-years-old, Carrigaline man Eoin O’Sullivan is the youngest ever elected president of the Cork Business Association (CBA) and that youthful vigour means he is determined to make his mark on the role.
He was given the nod at the CBA’s annual general meeting held in the Metropole Hotel recently where former president Philip Gillivan handed over the president's chain.
Mr O'Sullivan is set to give two years of service and commitment to Cork's business community in his new voluntary role.
As sales director of the family-run wholesale food business, M&P O’Sullivan, Mr O’Sullivan is no stranger to Cork business circles.
He co-manages the business on Sarsfield Road in Wilton along with his cousin Patrick.
M&P O’Sullivan has been trading in Cork city for over 115 years and currently employs 55 people.
The family business is now in its fourth generation of trading and continues to play an integral role in the Irish Food industry.
According to Mr O’Sullivan, a key driver of the company’s growth is their continued passion to provide unrivaled levels of customer service to all of their customers.
Having worked in many different roles, Mr O’Sullivan decided he would like a career in sales and worked with Nestlé as a sales executive for two years.
He studied sales and business management in CIT before returning to the family firm in 2011.
At that time, the business predominantly sold dry goods and provided a service to Cork city and the surrounding areas with three salespeople.
Today, M&P O’Sullivan is a multi-temperature distribution business covering over 10 counties with a sales team of 10 people.
Mr O’Sullivan has also acted as vice president of the CBA under the guidance of Philip Gillivan and CEO Lawrence Owens.
He also has a personal connection with the CBA as his father held the title of president of the organisation for three successive terms.
Speaking to The Echo about his recent appointment, Mr O’Sullivan said:
“I was honoured. I was a bit shocked to get it because I’m so young and there were so many talented people on the executive committee that I thought would have been put forward first.
“I think getting the role was a major vote of confidence for the young businesspeople of Cork, that business people in the Cork Business Association had put me forward. I was delighted to get it,” he said.
Mr O’Sullivan outlined the key responsibilities of the CBA president and the and the line of work that he will be involved in over the next two years.
He said that the role of president of the CBA is a predominantly ceremonial role where he will attend various events and chair the CBA’s executive meetings which are held 11 times in the year.
He will also address any major issues that CBA members may have and meet major stakeholders in the city.
“I will run hand in hand with the CEO Lawrence Owens to address any major issues that the members may have and we may meet the major stakeholders in the city. I’ll attend those meetings as well and give my point of view but it’s a mainly ceremonial role and Lawrence Owens is the one who runs the organisation on a day to day basis.
“It’s a voluntary role and I have my own business here so we have to mind our own business too,” he said.
Mr O’Sullivan said that his first port of call in the new role is to focus on the particular initiatives he wants to work on such as the development of a large tourist attraction in the city centre which he believes is something that the city needs.
“In Belfast, you’ve the Titanic Experience which is superb, you have the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin. I think Cork city needs something like that, whether it is something like a maritime museum or some sort of museum on the Quays or the Port of Cork or something in the city centre.
“Of course, we have the Jameson Distillery in Midleton and that is a huge draw for Cork, and also the likes of Fota Island, but I think something for the city centre would be very important to bring people in.
“People from all over the world come into Cobh, the cruise liners stop up and the buses take them right outside of Cork, they go to Kerry, they go up to the Rock of Cashel. So we need to put something in the city that keeps people there.
“That's an important one for me, there’s a lot of development going on, there’s a lot of office space but one thing that I would like to see is a tourist attraction for the city like that to bring people into the city and give them another reason to come in. That would be something that I would like to focus on and see if there’s an opportunity there,” he said.
He also outlined the challenges facing him as the newly-elected president.
He said that one of the major challenges for him going forward is the proposed retail outlet centre for Carrigtwohill and warned of the impact that it would have on city centre trade.
The CBA is opposed to proposals for the €100m project which requires a variation to the County Development Plan in order to go ahead.
Mr O’Sullivan said that the retail outlet centre proposed for Killacloyne in Carrigtwohill would damage city centre trade and encourage people to travel out of the city centre by car.
“A lot of our members are extremely worried about the impact that it’s going to have on the city centre so I think that’s going to be a big challenge for us going forward and I think it's something that I personally am going to have to get behind as well as the CBA president,” he said.
Mr O’Sullivan said that the proposed outlet centre, which has been compared to that of Kildare Village, would also be a threat to shopping centres in the city.
“It is not the same scenario as the Kildare outlet centre, because the Kildare outlets are an hour outside of Dublin so you’ve to travel out there, Carrigtwohill is only 15 minutes outside the city.
“You already have big shopping centres like Mahon Point, Wilton Shopping Centre and Blackpool that, I would say, wouldn’t be very happy either with this move.
“For us as an organisation, we need to protect the indigenous businesses that are the core of the city and this outlet centre would take from that. That is one of my challenges going forward, and the organisation does oppose it and we have been public about that.
The development is predicted to create 850 jobs and attract 220,000 additional visitors to the region, according to Rioja Estates, a UK-based retail specialist.
The Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) has urged Minister of State for Housing, Damien English, to intervene and overturn Cork County Council’s decision to clear the way for the retail outlet centre after Rioja Estates made a formal submission to vary the Development Plan.
Mr O’Sullivan also highlighted how Cork city will benefit from the current construction boom which has seen cranes returning to its skyline.
A series of planned developments consisting of almost one million square foot of office space and 1,300 new hotel rooms are in the pipeline for Cork and are at different stages of development.
Cork is being sought after by multinational companies for its competitive rates on office spaces and results are in sight after decades of broken promises of progress.
New offices, hotels, shops and educational facilities are no longer just proposals, with many developments around the city currently under construction.
Quality accommodation is needed to meet demand from the current boom in city centre developments, according to CBA president Eoin O’Sullivan.
Mr O’Sullivan said that accommodation needs to be built in order to support the number of new jobs coming into the city over the next couple of years as Cork’s competitive rates on office spaces become increasingly attractive to large multinational firms.
“There’s over a million square foot of office space being developed now in the city but accommodation is needed, it’s the big one.“We have a lot of jobs moving into the city centre, over 10,000 jobs over the next couple of years, we need quality accommodation to support that,” he said.
He said that the 25-storey apartment tower on the former Sextant pub site “is exactly what the city needs”.
A planning green light was given for the apartment tower on Albert Quay, the second tall apartment tower to get planning in Cork in recent months.
An Bord Pleanála also approved the construction of a 17-storey apartment block called Railway Gardens on the South City Link Road in December of last year.
Developers of the most recently approved development in the city, JCD Group, got the go-ahead for the 25-storey tower consisting of build-to-rent apartments, a bar and restaurant via a fast track planning process.
The development comprises 201 apartments, 95 one-bed apartments, 102 two-bed apartments and four three-bed apartments.
Elsewhere in the city, permission has been sought for the development of student accommodation complexes which are required to meet the increasing demand for the growing numbers of students in Cork, with 21,000 students enrolled in UCC and 17,000 enrolled across CIT’s main campus, the Crawford College of Art and Design, School of Music, and the National Maritime College of Ireland.
Bmor Developments Limited acquired a site on North Main Street back in April 2018, for a Strategic Housing Development in the city centre.
An Bord Pleanála has since ruled that further consideration or an amendment is needed on the plans for development, which could see 285 student bed spaces created.
The estimated completion date of the project, if approved, is September 2021.
Meanwhile, planning permission is in place to build a 484-bed student accommodation development on the Carrigrohane Straight Road.
In 2018, Future Generation acquired the site for the development which is said to be open in time for the 2021/2022 academic year.
Mr O’Sullivan said: "Accommodation is going in down by the Carrigrohane Straight, along with North Main Street bringing in more student accommodation into the city which is great.
“I think we can build accommodation in the city centre for students so that they don’t have to get the bus, they can cycle or walk to get to college which would be great,” he said.
Investment in transport for Cork city and its commuter towns is “important” for an increasingly diverse city, according to CBA president Eoin O’Sullivan.
Mr O’Sullivan said that an increase in bus frequency for the city centre, improved cycle lanes and the planned light rail are all key developments that would see an improvement in Cork’s transport network under the Transport Strategy for the Cork Metropolitan Area.
The landmark €3.5bn transport strategy for the metropolitan region will see an improvement of key primary cycle routes under Project Ireland 2040, an enhanced BusConnects network, an improved suburban rail network, and a light rail system for Cork.
Mr O’Sullivan said that a smart transport network is required to support a hugely diverse city that attracts both large tech companies and multinational companies.
“Cork is becoming a hugely diverse city. Over 43% of the people living in the city were born outside of Ireland. Cork is now a sought-after destination to live and work.
“Large tech companies and multinational companies are looking at Cork as a place to set up shop because you get very competitive rates as an office but also the work-life balance in the city is really good,” he said.
He said that the proposed €1bn light rail system would be “nice to have in the next 10 to 20 years” and would “increase footfall into the city centre”.
Planning for the 25-stop light rail system linking Ballincollig to Mahon is due to get underway next month.
The National Transport Authority (NTA) confirmed that specialist engineers will be appointed next month to begin work on assessing route options for the proposed 17km stretch light rail system.
Mr O’Sullivan said that easy accessibility into the city centre is also key for a city that is becoming increasingly popular among tourists as “the food capital of Ireland”.
“For me, it’s very important to recognise the independent operators that are in the city. It’s important that they promote their own businesses and through that we get a lot of tourism.
“Cork is the food capital of Ireland. You could go out in Cork every night and go to a different restaurant and be satisfied. So that’s a major draw for us and I think for me, that’s a major focus in developing the city,” he said.
Mr O’Sullivan said that he would hope for a transport system that would link the various commuter towns surrounding the city.
“I’d be hoping that the likes of Carrigaline, Ballincollig, out as far as Mahon would be linked. I think that would be important.
“I also think if we had a good bus service and an improved rail service, such as Midleton to Cork city route, it would mean an awful lot,” he said.