'Breaking it into mini department stores needs to be considered'; Future of Debenhams on City Hall agenda

'Breaking it into mini department stores needs to be considered'; Future of Debenhams on City Hall agenda
Debenhams, St. Patrick's St., Cork. Picture: Denis Minihane.

FEARS for the future of the city centre were voiced at an online briefing held by Cork City Council in the wake of the permanent closure of the landmark Debenhams store on Patrick's Street. 

It was confirmed last week that Debenhams was permanently shutting its Irish operation, with more than 400 jobs lost in Cork city.

The closure was raised at a council briefing last night by former Lord Mayor Mick Finn, who described the announcement as a “hammer blow” to the city.

“It has implications going forward, it will leave a big gap in the heart of the city,” Mr Finn told The Echo. 

“We need to work with the core businesses and come together to see what will happen.” 

A rejuvenation plan would be needed so the city could hit the ground running when it gets the green light to reopen, he said.

The impact of the job losses is being felt right across the city and Mr Finn said he had a family member who had been working in Debenhams for the past decade.

"We will need state support to survive this, the centre was already struggling and competing with online, now with Covid-19, it is another blow," he added.

Independent Councillor Kieran McCarthy outlined that the building was still in private ownership and while there had been discussions around plans for the site, it was not known if these would go ahead.

He also highlighted the huge loss of commercial rates to the council.

“Rates are 40% of the council income,” Mr McCarthy said.

“The closure of Debenhams is a significant loss to the council.” 

City Hall officials are expected to put together a revised budget in May to take into account the unforeseen circumstances that have occurred since the original local authority budget was passed for 2020.

“There is a lot of worry about the city, we have no idea when it can reopen, hopefully, early summer, but we have no idea," he said. 

Mr McCarthy said he has suggested setting up a post-coronavirus economic committee to look at safeguarding the city centre, but it was too early to know what could be done.

“Debenhams is a prime site. It has a lot of potential, the idea of breaking it into mini department stores needs to be considered.” 

The councillor said the next year and a half would be tough on local businesses and once we emerge from the lockdown the citizens of Cork need to support local as much as possible.

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