Dublin’s Victorian fruit and vegetable market on Mary’s Lane will close next week for a major redevelopment project expected to take at least two years.
Dublin City Council has had permission for the past four years to convert the 127-year-old wholesale market between Capel Street and Smithfield into a 50-50 retail and wholesale market.
However, the market may now be changed to a retail-only facility, depending on the outcome of a tender process for the redevelopment, which will get under way in the coming months.
The council had planned to convert the eastern side of the market into a continental-style food market with a range of producers including butchers, bakers, cheesemongers, fishmongers and greengrocers, while retaining the wholesale businesses in the western half of the market hall.
The council's head of planning, Richard Shakespeare, said that although he did not want to pre-empt the tender process, there may not be the same demand for a wholesale element to the market.
“We are going out to tender, and I don’t want to second-guess that process, but it would be fair to say the trading environment for wholesale has probably changed, and it would be disingenuous of us to go out to tender without being cognisant of that.”
The tender will be for a “design, build and operate” contract, Mr Shakespeare said, which means the council will not in future run the market. However, any proposal to change the current 50-50 wholesale and retail plans will require the sanction of city councillors.
“Depending on what response we get from the tender process, the councillors will have to decide is wholesale the right use for the market – whether, for instance, deliveries at four in the morning are still appropriate for the area,” he said. “Now the tender process might indicate that some wholesale could be viable, but the big players in wholesale now have their distribution outside the city, and as density grows, it probably isn’t feasible for them to come back in.”
The previous and current wholesale traders have received “appropriate compensation” for their pitches, Mr Shakespeare said, so the successful bidder for the redevelopment will not be under an obligation to accommodate them in the new market.
The procurement process is expected to take three to four months. If a revised planning permission is required, this will add about six months to the time line, Mr Shakespeare said. The construction phase would be expected to last eight to nine months.
The few remaining traders in the market hall said they did not expect any wholesale element in the new market.
“I can’t see see people having a drink and a panini with 40ft trucks around them,” said David Tyrrell of N Tyrrell Fruit and Vegetables. Mr Tyrrell said he would be moving from the market early next week, but would be continuing to trade locally.
Joe Duffy, of Joseph M Duffy & Sons, who runs the last flower market in the building, said he would also be moving to a nearby location on Mary’s Lane.
“We’re here 120 years altogether, with my grandfather and my father before me. My grandparents actually met in the market, so it’s in the blood. We never had to advertise because everyone knew we were always here.”
He said he can see there being a place for retail flower sales in the new market, but not for wholesale. “I can’t see there being any wholesale. It will be a different market – a tourism market, really.”
The redevelopment of the market was first proposed by the council in 2002. Following three years of planning, the Markets Framework Plan was published in 2005, featuring the refurbishment of the market as one element of a retail, apartment and office complex of up to six storeys in height with a new civic square and a leisure centre.
A consortium was selected for the €425 million project in 2007, and Merrion Hotel restaurateur Patrick Guilbaud was reported to be “in talks” as an anchor tenant, but contracts were never signed.
In 2011 the council announced considerably more modest plans to redevelop the fruit and vegetable market as a retail and wholesale food market. The following year it began repairs to the roof and in 2013 it drafted plans for the redevelopment with the intention of opening the new market in mid-2015.
Following a delay, largely resulting from a row over the use of the neighbouring former fish market site, plans for the redevelopment were approved by councillors in February 2015.
However, the development again stalled when it emerged later that year that vacant possession of the hall was required for the work to take place. At that point, about a dozen wholesalers were still using the building. Following years of negotiation with the traders, the council has this month secured vacant possession of the building.
Mr Shakespeare said he hoped the market would reopen in 2021 and would be a catalyst for the redevelopment of the area.
“We’ve been trying for a long time to connect Capel Street to Smithfield, and this redevelopment is a critical piece of that pie.”