Waterways Ireland Considers a Floating Food Market for Grand Canal Dock

Waterways Ireland has been looking at whether to build a floating food hall and outdoor deck, overlooking Grand Canal Dock’s outer basin.

The idea for seven-day “premium” food and drink stalls, a co-working space, dining area, and waterfront terrace, is set out in a feasibility study by Colliers International and Aecom, from October last year.

It might be called “The Wave”. Or “The Irish Market”. Or “The Time Out Market”, the presentation suggests.

It’s one of a number of proposals for developments in the Docklands area that are being debated by the steward for water bodies, all part of making Grand Canal Dock “a major destination project”.

At a recent council meeting, a representative for Waterways Ireland also gave an outline of plans for a triangle of land that it owns on the spot where Grand Canal Dock meets the River Dodder.

At the moment, Waterways Ireland’s aim is not to sell of any of its assets but to use them to squeeze a stream of revenue to help pay for the upkeep of the canal networks – similar to how Córas Impair Éireann (CIÉ) treats its land.

“I do think it was very well received,” says Sinn Féin Councillor Chris Andrews on Waterways Ireland’s plans for Block 19, the triangle of land at Grand Canal Dock.

However, he does have a fear, he says, that Waterways Ireland can be very detached from local communities, and councillors and would like to have a greater say in how the body makes decisions.

Changing Grand Canal Dock

The Waterways Ireland brief described the Docks Market as “in essence a curated, carefully selected floating village market on canal barges”.

It could go on Grand Canal Quay south of the “red carpet” – the spikey red plaza designed by architect Martha Schwartz – or east along the Hanover Quay wall, the report says.

A possible outline by Aecom says the market, made on a pontoon structure, would need to cover more than 2,600sqm, and could include an outdoor deck, a pavilion, kiosks and boutiques.

Alongside “further product and brand development”, the aim is “to elevate the area and the wider Dublin Docklands as a visitor destination”. It would have a significant tourism focus, the report notes.

It could also help the area “to improve and maintain its attractiveness as place for talented people to live and for domestic and international business to locate”, it says.

It notes how the area is changing fast, with 400 hotel rooms expected in the coming years, to add to the 730 already there – and all 20 blocks in the neighbourhood likely to be built out in the next couple of years, it says.

The big Poolbeg SDZ, which is 1.5km away, maybe be built up too, it says, with 6,000 to 8,000 people expected to live there.

“With the housing crisis, it might be that Government fast tracks this development, against normal private sector practice of not ‘swamping’ the market with units,” it says.

For Whom?

An important option for Waterways Ireland was to decide whether it should be a commercial or non-commercial project, the report notes.

Whether it wanted to maximize income – and use some of that money for its corporate social responsibility – or consider its corporate social responsibility to be part of this project as a public body.

The study says that, from discussions, it seems like Waterways Ireland will go for the first of these. “We believe this is the correct approach for this location,” the study says.

The feasibility study recommends that Waterways Ireland farm out the project as a joint venture, with a private-sector operator, and that it operate on a “fully commercial rationale”.

It could get a minimum guaranteed rent, and a percentage of turnover when that turnover hits certain amounts, the report says.

If such a market were to attract between 500,000 to 750,000 visitors, it might make between €3.4 million to €4.5 million each year, the report says.

Construction may cost around €9.76 million, the report says. In which case, Waterways Ireland could expect a base rent each year of €1.1 million.

There is a place for some sense of being rooted in the community though, it suggests later. This helps to add “authenticity, depth, relationships around a shared goal”.

A later table shows a suggested market positioning as between high and mid-prices, with independent brands, just brushing the top of the “bohemian” market.

### Block 19

At a recent meeting of the council’s South-East Area committee, John Boyle, director of business development at Waterways Ireland, told councillors that they’re working out at the moment what’ll go on Block 19, too.

That’s a triangle of land, which, under the Strategic Development Zone (SDZ) planning scheme, has to be used for 40 percent homes, 30 percent commercial, and 30 percent community use.

Waterways Ireland has decided not to sell the site, so it can keep some control over the development, said Boyle.

The site is of historical significance due to the presence of three graving docks, two of which are still open, with one being filled in.

Commercial Uses, Community Uses

Waterways Ireland is opting for a commercial use for its water bodies on Grand Canal Dock, because that was part of its remit, as outlined in the Waterways Ireland Corporate Plan for 2017-2019, a spokesperson said.

That plan sets out “a road map to ensure the inland waterways continue to expand the recreational, social, health and economic benefits that can be derived from their use”, the spokesperson said.

When plans for other water bodies in the area have come before councillors, some have asked where the community consultation had been.

A council administrative officer, Derek Kelly shared a proposal for a white-water rafting spot at George’s Dock, the other side of the river, at a recent meeting with councillors, which met with mixed responses last month.

The biggest water sport in the north inner-city is the open canal and sea swimming that happens when the warm weather hits, and kids dive from building tops into the canals and rivers, Green Party Councillor Ciarán Cuffe had said.

“I would like to see more engagement with them, and their needs,” he said at the time.

Reactions to Block 19

At the recent meeting to discuss the future of Block 19, Green Party Councillor Claire Byrne welcomed Waterways Ireland’s decision not to sell the site.

“I think that provides a certain level of assurance to the councillors, but most importantly to the local community,” Byrne said.

“I’d prefer to see no development here,” she said. “I think there’s a serious lack of green space in the Docklands, this would be a perfect opportunity for a waterside park that could link in with the Dodder Greenway, which is running very close by.”

It’s a “fabulous opportunity here for a lido, for a place to actually swim”, said independent Councillor Mannix Flynn.

Reg McCabe, of the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland, a charity that campaigns on waterway improvement and restoration, said it’s important for any potential community use at the site to incorporate maritime activities.

“We would have a particular focus on the need of the graving dock as a functioning graving dock. There’s no dry dock in the city at the moment and that’s a significant deficiency given the number of boats that are in the area,” says McCabe.

At the presentation, Boyle said that the community development use would be the most difficult to achieve.

One possibility he raised was a multi-purpose building with “a common reception area for use by all community groups and a facility for the community”.

Another was a “multipurpose exhibition archive area that could tell the heritage and the culture and the history of the canal network”.

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