GEM OF SITE UNVEILED AT KEENEY CONSTRUCTION PRESENTATION
An audience of approximately 150 invited guests attended the unveiling of Keeney Constructions vision for the redevelopment of the Magee Site in the Abbey Hotel last Thursday evening.
Derek Scott, Planning Consultant and Project Manager to Keeney Construction Limited, welcomed the assembled audience to the presentation which was given by Kelvin Campbell of the award winning and internationally acclaimed town designers Urban Initiatives. Winners of the Royal Town Planning Institute Planning Consultants of the Year Award in 2003, Urban Initiatives are also recent recipients of the Irish Planning Achievement Award, the Royal Town Planning Silver Jubilee Cup - and other prestigious European Planning Awards for the highly successful Cork Centre Historic Action Plan which led to the regeneration of the docklands area surrounding the City Quays in the heart of the current European City of Culture. Also on Keeney Constructions panel was Joe Doyle of Joe Doyle Architects who were recent recipients of the Department of the Environments National Design Award and the Irish Property Award for the Clare Hall Shopping Centre in Dublin.
In an inspired presentation, Kelvin Campbell of Urban Initiatives, described the town as a true gem and spoke passionately about the potential that the Magee site and adjoining lands offer for the creation of a mixed-use development incorporating a new foodstore; retail outlets; cafes and restaurants; apartments; riverside walks, a new public square, landmark buildings; a town park; educational and cultural facilities; car parking facilities and new pedestrian and vehicular bridges across the River Eske.
Campbell drew particular attention to the close proximity of the Magee site to the existing commercial and retail heart of the town centred around the Diamond and the potential that the site offered for providing parking facilities that would service both the proposed development and existing businesses in the wider area.
Using a series of diagrams and artists impression of what the development will entail, Mr Campbell explained how it was proposed to develop in three stages.
In an enthusiastic question and answer session following the presentation, it emerged that Keeney Construction Limited were prepared to build two new river crossings over the Eske as part of their proposals to rejuvenate the wider area within which the Magee site lies. The first bridge and road link to the Magee site would be proposed in the vicinity of the Famine Graveyard over land in the present ownership of the Health Services Executive and the second bridge and road link would be proposed over land on the eastern side of the Hospital behind the Donegal Town Football Club pitch (on lands presently owned by Paddy and Kathleen OToole).
The proposals presented by Keeney Construction received a very warm, positive and enthusiastic response from the assembled audience, made up of local business people, community activists, landowners and other interested parties.
Derek Scott, in response to questioning, advised that Keeney Construction Limited would be seeking a meeting with the County Manager, Chief Planning Officer, and local elected representatives in the near future to present their proposals and expressed a desire to work in partnership with them. He was of the opinion that the proposal complied with the County Councils planning policy for the area and unless a site could be found closer to the town centre, it had to be the preferred location for any significant retail development. Scott was also of the opinion that the area represented the most attractive location for the development of a new Arts Centre and Library which, he said, would add to the vitality of the proposed mixed-use scheme and provide essential community facilities for the area. He added from the consultation exercises we have undertaken with local community and business representatives there is great concern that, if the town does not develop from the centre outwards, it could have a devastating effect on the Diamond and the streets leading into and out of it. The creation of the mixed-use scheme as proposed offers the best of both worlds in line with the proper planning and development of the area.
Questions from the floor:
Amanda Crawford: What sort of a time scale for phase one?
Derek: We would envisage a planning application very shortly. We are obviously working on the detail at present and we certainly hope within the next few months we will have the application lodged for phase one, then it will have to go through the planning process. Its hard to know when the first sod will be turned. We hope to have the planning application for the Magee replacement factory complex in within the next six weeks and then it is down to the planning process.
Ernan McGettigan: How many parking spaces?
Joe: We looked at a number of car parking strategies - there will be 600 spaces on the first deck and if we go for the second deck we will have twice that amount - and a possible multi-storey car park which would not only support the development but would serve Donegal Town as well.
Kathleen OToole: How safe is the junction at the school?
Derek: Unfortunately we dont have our traffic engineer with us tonight - but he has looked very closely at this. What we propose is a signalised junction with pedestrian crossing and an extra traffic lane. I am conscious that the schools are not safe at present but we are confident that this will be an improvement and make for a safer location for the drop-off and pick-up of school children.
Paul Doherty: I want to congratulate you on this proposed development - it is the first time this town has seen some decent urban planning. How quickly can this become a reality and how does it tie in with the Town Development Plan.
Derek: Obviously the land area site falls within the core retail zone and the principal of this development as such is supported by the Local Area Plan. This is just one of a number of considerations that have to be taken into account, the other key one is retail planning guidelines which are issued by the Department of Environment. These carry a very clear message that the retail development should be located as close as possible to town centres and that the town should develop from the centre out as opposed the outer region being developed first and working in. We are confident that the application accords with the Local Area Plan and I cant think of anything in our proposal that could be contrary to this and would necessitate a material alteration it is zoned core-retail.
Following up on this, architect Joe Doyle, added: Danny Keeney is conscious that the generation to follow is going to inherit what we leave behind. We are very conscious of the sensitivity of the site. Dublins Jervis Street ten years ago was a place where there were apples and oranges sold - you go down there today and it is valuable property, the same thing will happen here - the key point is the magnet that will link up this area to the Diamond. It is absolutely a jewel of a site and thats why were are persevering with it. Joe assured people not to worry about Keeney Construction cherrypicking which parts of the development to complete first - he stated that the large retail unit and shops alongside would be built in tandem as it would not make commercial sense to do otherwise.
Lynn Temple: I would like to congratulate this team of professionals. We are fortunate that Danny has brought a team like this in here with such plans for our beautiful town. Here we have an opportunity to see our town grow, utilising its most attractive asset - the river. From a Magee point of view it made little sense for us to continue to operate on a site which is zoned core-retail. We will continue to occupy over an acre along the river for the weaving which, in the overall develoment of the scheme, will be an added attraction. I would see the comments here as supportive and hope this overall development will get the backing of the town. I want to thank Danny and his professional team who have come here tonight to share their concept and thoughts with us.
John Curran: Have you sought planning?
Derek: We have come here tonight to get the feeling of the public and their reaction to what we are doing and will be taking our proposals to the planning department in the very near future. We are in an area that is designated as core-retail. The uses we are proposing accord with the zoning of the site and the scheme that we are coming up with complements the area.
Michael Daly: Is Tesco on board?
Derek: Tesco are firmly committed to coming to Donegal Town irrespective of the planning application for a Ballybofey store. Danny spoke with them no later than yesterday and also I read an article in the Donegal Times recently where Tesco confirmed to them their commitment to the town.
Mayor Ciaran Twomey spoke at the end saying he welcomed the project and applauded the developers, adding that it was important that Donegal Town seize the opportunities to grow that were being offered.
Amanda Crawford made some good points regarding the possibility of cinema, theatre, art centres as there are no evening facilities in the town other than pubs.
Keeneys plan offers retail, residential and leisure close to town centre
Artists impression of proposed Keeney development
The rapt attention each speaker was afforded, the applause that followed, and the universal air of approval after the presentations, marked out the introduction of the Keeney Construction plans for the Magee and Upper Main Street sites, as something special. The amount of imagination and constructive effort expended by the architects and designers became apparent as each detail was pointed to and explained. Much attention was drawn by the Keeney team to the close physical relationships between the projected new development and the existing town centre. The proximity of the two sites on each side of the River Eske to existing town businesses and services is what commends this development over those applied for previously at Revlin and Drimlonagher. Planned as a live, vibrant area, architect Joe Doyle explained that the main retail centre would not be an internal mall structure on which the doors would swing closed in the evening, but rather an open river walk facade, with the units external to the structure, and cafes, craft outlets and leisure facilities open late into the night. Complementing these would be a residential element, including mews style town-houses and waterfront apartments, creating movement, light and atmosphere.
With the expected multiple (Tesco?) taking up 50% of the 100,000 sq ft main block - other smaller outlets of 2,000 - 5,000 sq ft will occupy the remainder. On a space at the corner near Water Street Bridge will be constructed a new landmark building, whose use is yet to be decided. An attractive curved structure, just past the existing weaving plant, is planned to be an art/civic centre that could house a library, gallery or theatre. The weaving facility itself will stay in place, incorporated as an attraction into the scheme. The Keeney planners hope that the old mill in the Timony lands (not part of the scheme) can be restored and be a feature in the overall development - maybe housing traditional workshops.
In all, a very creative and visionary blueprint, greatly added to by the attractive natural riverside location - and all very capable of being delivered in a relatively short time frame, according to Mr. Keeney. Let us hope this is so ..... and the development is allowed go ahead without the impediments that have plagued previous applications.
Talking to Donegal Times Danny Keeney said the development will cost in the region of €75 to €100 million and will inject heart, life and vitality into Donegal Town.
Several towns in Ireland have sporadic development without any thought to a masterplan. We feel that not alone will this development enhance Donegal Towns position as a major tourist location but will sympathetically develop and incorporate leisure, civic and retail infrastructure in an area within walking distance of the town centre. It will also open up walk-ways along the River Eske which are currently non-existent. This is a unique project that merges expertise, design and vision.
In response to the presentation put forward by Urban Initiatives and Joe Doyle, Architects, my thoughts are as follows;
I welcome the presentation of a Masterplan setting out a development strategy for a sensitive and important area of the town which is located centrally and within short walking distance of the Diamond.
The Design Team bring a vast wealth of experience and knowledge and their involvement should be welcomed by any person interested in the balanced development of the centre of the town.
The preparation of a master plan which concerns itself with urban realities such as streetscape, treatment of the river bank etc, and is designed primarily around pedestrian movements, is an integral concept of good urban planning
The access road must be the subject of traffic management assessments and audit to ensure efficient and safe vehicular access to the development.
A long term goal should be to provide a variety of vehicular access points so as to distribute movements. However a singular vehicular access in phase one, in order to kickstart the basic development, must be accepted.
Careful design at this stage could lead to the development of a pedestrianised Latin Quarter, brimming with activity and addressing the river in a sensitive and sustainable manner, which could greatly enhance the town in terms of tourism product, retail attractiveness and general evening social diversity, all of which are vital to the continuing growth of the town.
Donegal Town is desperate for commercial development, to allow for a balanced growth of the town and its up to the professionals and interested parties to ensure any major commercial development is balanced and makes use of the unique setting along the rivers edge which is available on the Magee site. This development has the potential to greatly enhance the unique character of Donegal Town for generations to come. Donegal as a town need not accept any or every commercial development simply because it provides a supermarket - every major developer who will benefit greatly in financial terms should be encouraged/forced to contribute more than just a building and sea of tarmac car parking, but must treat the major developments of the town in a sensitive and sustainable manner which will contribute to the balanced development of the entire Town.
Paul Doherty MRIAI, Paul Doherty Architects Ltd