Latest addition to Cork city centre is simply Capitol

October 13, 2016

AS THE very last section of shiny, white Techcrete cladding panels swung into place this week on Cork City’s rapidly-emerging €50m Capitol retail and office complex, a pedestrian passerby on Grand Parade observed “ah, the last piece of the jigsaw”.

“It’s a beautiful building, and it’s big improvement. It shows up all the rest on the street, they should knock them too” volunteered pensioner Tom Twohig, from the Commons Rd….who also suggested the word ‘English’ should be dropped from the right-next door English Market, the city’s beating heart and epicurean-fed stomach.

More than a few other heads turned too to witness the Capitol site crane’s balletic manouvering of ten tonnes of gleaming Techcrete stone into a central block position, facing right down Washington St as a new city centre calling card, shopping precinct and key-stone for an exemplary office setting for 500-plus workers.

It was, indeed, the very last of the 200 Techrete reconstituted stone panels to wrap the building’s two facades, on both St Patrick’s Street and on Grand Parade.

But, in truth, it’s not quite the last Lego or jig-saw piece to fall into place on this Wilson Architecture-designed building.

It’s more like the outline is in place, and all of the vital corners secured, on this complex logistical jig-saw puzzle on a demanding 0.75-acre site.

The big picture is rapidly emerging, but there’s central bits missing: the next few weeks’ tenant negotiations will reveal the fuller picture, appropriately for a site that previous had the 1940s-built Capitol cinema at its centre.

The ‘Coming Soon’ teasers are who the main Capitol anchor/retailers will be for this most significant 100,000sq ft city centre development, with scope to be a game-changer for this end of Patrick Street, and the Grand Parade.

Discussions with two tenants for c 42,000sq ft of retail over the lower two levels are in “legals” right now, with a heavy “no disclosures” sanction by John Cleary Development over coming weeks, until safely signed and over the line.

High Street names, be they fashion retailers, sports gear or household goods, are the broad parameters speculated upon (though Zara is out of the rumour mill, apparently favouring a pitch nearer BTs,) but already, discussions are in train with office tenants for at least 50% of the c 54,000sq ft of Grade A offices being delivered on the three upper floors, reveals developer John Cleary, on a revelatory site visit this week.

Rents sought are in the region of €32 per square foot for the offices at 14-23 Grand Parade, according to JCD, less than half the €70 psf levels now being hit in Dublin.

It opens new potential and perspectives on the city core, on several levels, both literal and metaphorical, with the upper floor offices and outdoor terraces having fascinating views over roof tops, down key streets, over to historic city churches.

The spread of those views is only matched by the efficacy of a central atrium through the three office levels: there won’t be another large floorplate office building on the city’s island to match it for drama, Gold LEED energy standards, and proximity of cafes, shops and services.

Having already billed it as the last available retail site of scale in Cork city centre, by the two top shopping streets of St Patrick’s Street and Oliver Plunkett Street and their bustling interconnecting streets, John Cleary notes “already there’s a few new coffee shops coming, and other vacant shops are being taken on too,” as he indicates the fit-out underway at the old Mothercare unit for Scandi-design shop Søstrene Grene, due to open next month.

November too is the time when the BAM Construction crane currently thrusting up through the Capitol’s atrium is due to come down (a bigger mobile crane will park on Grand Parade early some Sunday to pluck it out.)

When it does, there may not be another tower crane at work on the city’s island for a while. The nearest cranes are on the new courthouse site on Anglesea St, another BAM contract.

The pace of delivery is remarkable, for a site surrounded by old buildings and which needed an archaeological survey.

It’s taken nine months so far, from demolition to final cladding pieces slotting in Tuesday, and both retail space and offices may be ready for occupation by Easter, according to Mr Cleary, while talks are underway for an operator for the re-born Oyster bar and restaurant, to open late in 2017.

“It’s on schedule, and on budget,” John Cleary reports of the rapid-build, paying tribute to contracts manager Pat Connolly of BAM, and JCD’s own project manager Martin O’Brien for the smooth progress, with minimal city centre trader or traffic disturbance.

Letting agents are Savills, and JCD also has a contact who works in the US four months of the year, scouting office occupiers for Cork, which has paid rich dividends in securing occupiers for City Gate, Gity Gate Park and One Albert Quay, the latter already fully occupied, and home to 1,200 jobs and sold on to Green Reit Plc for €58m.

The completed €50m Capitol scheme will be crowned with a clock made by Cork specialists, Stokes Clocks, facing down Washington Street.

And, as an indication of different times, JCD paid c€6m for this Capitol site from receivers, after it lay idle for a decade having been assembled by developer Joe O’Donovan, at a cost of €60-70 million.