Technically, city councillors don’t have control over whether the Temple Bar Cultural Trust sells off 24 commercial properties in the west end of Temple Bar.
There’s a plan in motion to dissolve the trust and have the council take over its roles. But, although the trust is in transition, it’s not quite dead yet.
Still, on Monday, councillors made the case that they should have a say – and voted to delay the disposal of the small retail units that house, at the moment, stores such as the Gutter Bookshop, Queen of Tarts, and Dublin Ink.
“A review should take place, and let the councillors debate it and the councillors decide. At the moment, they’re council assets in all but name,” said Fine Gael councillor Kieran Binchy, at the monthly meeting at City Hall.
That was also the view of Labour councillor Rebecca Moynihan. She put forward an emergency motion for a review of Temple Bar that would set out strategic priorities and a vision for the cultural and commercial spaces in the area. While that goes ahead, the sales should be put on hold, the motion – which passed – also said.
It’s a vote that the trust will abide by, said Brendan Kenny, who is both a Dublin City Council assistant chief executive and the CEO of the Temple Bar Cultural Trust. “City council took a very strong unanimous decision that we shouldn’t move forward. So Temple Bar Cultural Trust will certainly respect that,” he said Tuesday.
Shaping the Future of Temple Bar
A recurring theme of this debate is how best to shape the future of Temple Bar, and whether holding on to commercial properties should play a role in that.
“We haven’t made up our mind one way or another what we are going to do,” said Moynihan, who is also the chair of the council’s Arts Strategic Policy Committee, on Tuesday. “My worry is that even if we sell them off to existing tenants now, in a couple of years time it might be then sold on, and we would have no control over what goes in.”
Moynihan continued: “I’m very conscious of being able to keep young start-ups, indigenous industries within Temple Bar and within the city centre. I’m not sure with disposal of the assets, we’d be able to do that.”
During Monday’s discussion, Fianna Fail councillor Jim O’Callaghan said the council’s control of property in Temple Bar gives it influence. “We need to have vision for Temple Bar into the future, and when we have access and we have ownership of such a large amount of property, we can actually mould the future of Temple Bar.”
But that can be done through planning regulations rather than hanging onto commercial property, argues independent councillor Mannix Flynn, who supports the sale, and is on the trust’s interim board, along with Kenny and Dublin City Council Assistant Chief Executive Jim Keoghan.
Fears that the properties will all morph into pubs, and the area will begin to look similar to the eastern end of the cobbled blocks, are unfounded, he says. “That’s not going to happen. They are by and large small premises . . . and they are subject to planning.”
The future of Temple Bar should involve less alcohol, said many councillors at the meeting.
Green Party councillor Cieran Cuffe said he would like to see more alcohol-free facilities for young people in the area.
“As we move into the potential of disposal, we should think quite carefully about all options, including retaining space for young people in an alcohol-free environment,” Cuffe said. “I am worried that we have squeezed out young people of Temple Bar and we have allowed alcohol to take over once darkness falls.”
The Rationale for the Sale
In a report to councillors last Friday, Kenny, the assistant chief executive, gave a rundown of the rationale for the sales.
Basically, it would mean there’d be a capital fund to be spent in Temple Bar, which could be used for structural works on the cultural buildings that the council owns in the area, improvements in the public-domain areas, and to snap up other properties for cultural, tech, or enterprise uses.
“There’s not other funds, and there’s no chance of getting any other funding. It’s become quite drab over the last few years. It certainly needs work,” said Kenny.
Dublin City Council hopes to get up to €10 million for the properties, in exchange for which it will give up annual income of about €800,000 from rents.
Still, Sinn Fein councillor Daithi Doolan is wary of selling off assets. “We’ll make some silver but that’ll be spent in no time,” he said.
Nevertheless, after the review, Flynn predicts, the sales will go ahead. “I think that people are going to sign up to the general idea of this,” he said.