Thomas Street fights back against vacancy and dereliction

Historic street took battering during boom

A vacant site on Thomas Street, Dublin. The Thomas Street Business Association is working to improve the appearance and the perception of the street. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

A vacant site on Thomas Street, Dublin. The Thomas Street Business Association is working to improve the appearance and the perception of the street. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 



Thomas Street in the southwest inner city took a terrible battering during the boom. The tide that supposedly lifted all boats almost sank the already struggling street.

As with many parts of the city, the 20th century was unkind to the historic building stock of Thomas Street. Dereliction and demolition created gaps in the streetscape and much historic architecture, including some early 18th-century merchant houses which remained became hidden beneath modern facades, and often the fabric became substantially damaged.

Then came the construction boom and while other neglected areas benefited from regeneration, Thomas Street fell prey to “site assembly”, where groups of buildings were bought up for large-scale development but remained disused. As the economy collapsed, they became increasingly dilapidated. Like a mouth with a couple of rotten teeth, the disease spread to the point that one- third of its buildings are derelict, vacant or have been demolished leaving unsightly gaps.

It shouldn’t be so. Thomas Street has all the ingredients for success, particularly from a tourism point of view. It runs from Christchurch to the Guinness Storehouse, the church of St Augustine and St John the Baptist has the highest steeple in the city, there is St James’s Graveyard dating from the 12th century, and St Catherine’s Church – the site of Robert Emmet’s execution.

Recognising these attributes and unwilling to watch the street decline irrevocably, businesses got together to “save” the street. Three months ago, a 90-day plan was initiated to improve both the appearance and the perception of the street.

The 90 days are now up, but the work is ongoing, Killian O’Higgins of the Thomas Street Business Association said.

“Eighteen properties, including the famous Nama six [buildings including the former Frawleys department store assembled at the height of the boom by Liam Carroll], have been redecorated and we have commitments to redecorate from another six – most of which will start in August.”

Volunteers are going to work on revamping three charity shops on the street and 30 window boxes have been installed at shop fronts.

For the city council’s part, it has increased street cleaning and has signed an agreement with the Digital Hub Development Agency which allows the use of empty buildings on the street for non-commercial, artistic and cultural endeavours without having to go though the formal planning process, an initiative which is being put to use by students at the National College of Art and Design.

A public meeting will be held later this month to discuss the future for the street, Mr O’Higgins said.