Centre could end decline of capital's main street

 

Its O'Connell Street facade would be almost three times the length of Clerys. It would have 15 cinemas and at least a dozen restaurants, as well as shops. And it would effectively create a new pedestrian link from Dublin's main thoroughfare to the Moore Street market.

If work on the Millennium Mall begins next summer as its developers, the Carlton Group, now hope, it could mark a major turning point in the development of O'Connell Street, after a long history of decline.

It is not just the size of the development that is interesting, although with construction costs of £100 million and the promise of 1,000 jobs this is impressive.

But the centre is also an attempt to change the whole atmosphere of the surrounding area, according to its architect and project manager, Mr Paul Clinton.

"We're trying to create a magnet which will bring people into O'Connell Street in the evening. All the street needs is middle-class activity, and we're prepared to take the risk that we can tempt those people in.

"So we're injecting a lot of cultural activity into it. And one of the most important things is restaurants. We're going to have at least a dozen restaurants - mostly fine dining, and definitely no fast food."

Architecturally, the scheme is inspired by the classical arcades and galleries of Paris, Milan and Moscow, incorporating the former Carlton cinema to create a full-height galleria behind the cinema's listed art-deco facade.

But it also draws on the experience of Whitely's in Bayswater, London. Once a department store, Whitely's ornate 1920s facade now fronts a shopping and leisure centre which has pushed the surrounding area upmarket.

The galleria will extend the 330 feet back to Moore Street, where it will be directly opposite the entrance to the ILAC Centre - a boost for one of the city-centre's older, and arguably more tired-looking, shopping malls.

On either side of the Carlton facade will be a pair of new buildings designed in "contemporary art deco style". One of these will occupy the derelict site between the Carlton and the Fingal County Council office block, which is to be turned into a 61-bedroom hotel.

Carlton's other proposals include glazing over part of Moore Street, creating an "all-weather section" for traders and shoppers. The developers believe the street could become "a mini-Covent Garden, encouraging restaurants etc, and yet having the benefit of authentic street traders".

The group claims the centre will help redress the balance between the north and south of the citycentre. "But, more importantly, it will build up the variety on offer in the city to combat the competition from the out-of-town megacentres."

Headed by businessman Mr Richard Quirke, who runs Dr Quirkey's Leisure Emporium adjacent to the site, the Carlton Group was involved in the first competition to build the National Conference Centre, but this ended in a legal dispute.

Deciding against entering the latest Bord Failte competition for a centre, the developers instead concentrated on assembling the larger three-acre site which is the subject of the new proposal.

The group is in discussions with several Irish and international retail tenants interested in taking space in the centre. Apart from a large department store, the developers envisage numerous "niche" shops with themed bars and restaurants.

It will take three years to construct the complex, which could open in late 2001 or early 2002. The group says priority on jobs will be given to inner-city applicants who achieve the appropriate standards.

The centre fulfils many of the criteria set down in Dublin Corporation's Integrated Area Plan for O'Connell Street. Various retail surveys have shown that the upper west side of O'Connell Street has significantly lower levels of pedestrian traffic than the rest of the street, with few people going farther than Henry Street.

However, the Carlton Group says the intention is to change the shopping habits of people in the O'Connell Street area.