Will refurbishments effect the antique tradition on Francis St?

Martin Fennelly of Martin Fennelly Antiques photo credit: Eibhin Kavanagh

Francis Street is renowned in Dublin for its antiques and collectables. The street has over fifteen stores, some of which have been there for more than four decades. The area was officially coined the ‘Arts and Antiques Quarter’ in 2003, and has remained the capital’s top destination for both vintage and contemporary pieces since.

Last year the Liberties Business Area Improvement Initiative, which is supported by Dublin City Council, announced that a full refurbishment of the Francis Street area was to commence in the summer of 2019. The plans are expected to cost between €3 million and €4 million.

Stephen Coyne, the programme manager, spoke about what exactly the plan will entail. “A full refurbishment of the public realm of Francis Street including widening and relaying pavements, creating two threshold spaces in front of the Iveagh Market and St Nicholas de Myra Church, adding new street furniture and lighting, reordering car parking and improving the safety of junctions.”

Dublin City Council are confident that the revamp will bring positive effects to the area, “The antiques stores change with the times and new shops on street will only add to the diverse range of shopping in the area. The Liberties is well-known for its independent shops and stores, and certainly Dublin City Council will continue to encourage and support that unique offer.”

However, the reconstruction has not been met entirely with positivity from shop owners currently located on the street.

Martin Fennelly of Martin Fennelly Antiques has said that he was “very disappointed with how the plan was initially put together”. He spoke about how there was originally meant to be several trees placed in front of his store. After much objection from himself, as well as various agencies, the plans were changed. He says however; “the fact that it happened proved a point, the point being that the research done was limited.”

Fennelly also mentioned the issue of parking, “the loss of 1/3 of the parking spaces is going to have a detrimental effect”, a view that was echoed by

Brian Behan, owner of Brian Behan Antiques, “people are not going to walk from other streets over here.” Behan also stressed how he felt that a correct approach to the project was paramount, “I’d imagine that if it’s not done sympathetically to our needs, it’ll become a graveyard for us”.

A shared view amongst the shop owners is that the introduction of both the Hyatt Centric Hotel and the Aparthotel, which is replacing the famous Tivoli theatre, will bring a surge of footfall to the area. Chantal O’Sullivan of O’Sullivan Antiques, believes that “the restoration around here will greatly improve the businesses because it will simply bring more people in.” “We’re destination anyway, people come for us regardless” she added.

Something that is also not disputed, is that the population increase does not necessarily mean the antique stores will see a growth in clientele. “I think the increase of people to the street will be tourists, and that the value added to us will be very low,” says Fennelly.

“No one from either of the hotels is going to come and buy a chest of drawers or a sculpture”, agreed Behan. Despite having reservations about the project and its execution, he added that “it does need to be upgraded, there’s nothing surer, and it will look fantastic when it’s done.”

There is a shared apprehension for the construction phase on the plan, which could take up to 12 months. Although the shop owners are not opposed to the regeneration of Francis Street, they are urging the City Council to acknowledge the needs and operations of the existing businesses.

“I think the charm of the street is that it’s not corporate owned. If the City Council work with the people here to ensure that stays the same, then it will be fantastic,” said Fennelly. “I hope they take cognisance to the damage that could be done to businesses, otherwise it could create a situation where the very aims of the Council had in fact, disappeared.”

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