This column was first printed in the Waterford News & Star on March 28 – a week after news of the North Quays development broke.
IT’S been an interesting and very enlightening week. I’ve always believed that Waterford has a dangerously large inferiority complex but it wasn’t until these past few days that I received absolute confirmation of it.
You’ll know by now that a Saudi Arabian group are planning to invest in Waterford – on the North Quays and on the Michael Street development. This is something that has been in negotiations for the past six months and is going to catapult our city into the economic stratosphere. Before I talk a little bit about the small mindedness that seems to be pandemic in Waterford, I want to briefly discuss what I believe this development will do for us.
Waterford has a brilliant location on the south east coast of Ireland. It should be one of the richest counties in the country due to its proximity to ports, beaches etc but somehow it’s not. Somehow, when the squeeze was applied, we felt the most pain.
I believe that a county grows from its city out and you don’t need me to tell you that Waterford City has been a wounded animal in recent years. Someone from a national tabloid rang me this week and proceeded to tell me how Waterford was dead and how this investment could revive it. I stopped them in their tracks and said that yes, we were knocked down, but we weren’t out. This seemed to be the buzz angle with other nationals, such as the Irish Times and Newstalk – paint a picture of Lazarus and go from there. They even went as far as showing some buildings that were shut down. Except they couldn’t even do that properly and decided to post a picture of Ginos instead, on which was probably taken at about nine in the morning (Ginos is very much open and thriving). Even when good things are happening, they still have to beat us down.
A rising tide lifts all boats and that’s exactly how I see Waterford’s future. Someone said to me this week, ‘this is the biggest thing to happen to Waterford in 800 years’, and I agree wholeheartedly.
I’m not going to say if…I’m going to say ‘when’. WHEN the Michael Street Development and the North Quays site are completed you are going to have some of the biggest names in retail operating from Waterford. We will instantly become a destination city for over almost two million people within 50 or 60 miles of us. You know that old expression that your nanny used to say – ‘money follows money’? That’s bang on and it’s exactly what will happen here. Waterford will be buzzing and it will attract other investors who want to get in on the action. Offices will pop up, a housing surge will commence and suddenly Waterford’s population will swell.
With the increase in populace, commerce and industry, there will be no option but to invest in our Airport with a major runway extension. Waterford will be like that English soccer club (Man City and Chelsea) that were languishing at the bottom of the table until Middle Eastern money came in to save the day. WIT will become University College Waterford and suddenly a conveyor belt of professionals will feed the city with knowledge, expertise and invaluable knowhow.
The nurses and doctors won’t be in such a rush to travel abroad because UHW will get urgent investment, including of course, the essential second cath lab.
This may all seem like pie in the sky stuff but I’m just saying what everyone else, including our highest ranking officials, are thinking but are afraid to actually utter the words.
We will, probably in 2020, have a complete city. John Street and Apple Market will have some fantastic bars and restaurants with outside seating on a beautiful, enclosed public realm. The Michael Street Shopping Centre will be a vibrant hub – full of people from the Dunmore Road who currently wouldn’t be seen dead in the city centre. Walking along Michael Street – with more great shops, we’ll then come to the likes of the newly relocated Tony Roches and of course City Square, which will be hugely improved from its current state with international retailers such as (possibly) H&M.
Wetherspoons will be open on Broad Street, as will Walsh’s and T&H Doolans. John Roberts Square will be buzzing. Keep walking down Barronstrand Street, cross the road and step on to the new pedestrian bridge which will bring you to the North Quays and a whole new world. None of this, I assure you, is farfetched.
Why then, when the Waterford News & Star broke the news of this development, did so few people believe it, and then so many more attack it?
Too many people have this opinion that everywhere else is better than Waterford. “I was up in Kilkenny last week and it was buzzing…twenty times busier than Waterford.” Rubbish. You don’t go out in Waterford, you barely leave your house, and you had cause to go to a Hen Night in Kilkenny and you suddenly assumed that they were great and we were not. Yes, we were bruised and beaten when the recession hit but we were resilient and we dared to believe in better.
“Sure why on Earth would they come to Waterford?” Because the powers that be, working hard behind the scenes, made us look attractive and stuck us on a shelf. We have a brilliant urban realm taking shape and a stunning Greenway that opened last Saturday. Add to that, the fact that you had a prime retail location with planning already approved and a 17 acre site that the Government had labelled a priority for a strategic development. It wouldn’t be too dissimilar from moving into a fully furnished home.
For the life of me, I’ll never understand why people will try and find negative in it. Sometimes I feel that certain people will never be happy unless everyone else is as miserable as they are. This is massive, and above all, it’s massively positive. Instead of trying to pick holes in it and sounding like a complete idiot in the process, why not just think about how sickened Kilkenny will be about the whole thing!