“We are very concerned about the performance of Athlone Towncentre to date,” was the verdict of chief executive of Retail Excellence Ireland, David Fitzsimons, in reaction to the poor performance of the shopping centre in rankings released this week.
Athlone Towncentre barely made the list of the top 58 shopping centres in the country in the Shopping Centre Productivity Review, taking 53rd place in the ranking - 31 points lower than in 2008.
The centre is struggling primarily because of the timing of its completion, according to Mr Fitzsimons. “The findings highlight that some of Ireland’s newest shopping centres are struggling to attract new customers in the current more difficult market conditions.
“Schemes that had a chance to grow are now the more successful ones. The schemes we are nervous about now are the ones that didn’t have the opportunity to grow their customer base, such as Athlone Towncentre.”
He believes that in many of the country’s newest centres, including Athlone, tenants are paying premium rents for an unacceptable trading performance.
“The owners desperately need to modify rents to keep people in business...While it does take longer for new shopping centres to become established, tenants cannot be expected to keep paying excessive rent premiums while landlords figure out a strategy to get business going. Rents have to be modified to take account of underperforming shopping centres.”
However, managing agents for the centre, Bannon Commercial, say there is no cause for panic, and that the centre is merely still in its ‘settling in’ phase.
“Every business is going through a torrid and tough time. Athlone Towncentre opened at the end of 2007, and any new centre takes two and a half years to become established,” said director of Bannon Commercial, Aidan Grimes.
“Athlone has a very good product with a strong retail mix. There have been a few casualties in the past few months, but new names will be replacing them. The Midlands needs a very good quality fashion offering. I have total confidence in our retail offering.”
Mr Grimes added that landlords work closely with the tenants at Athlone Towncentre to ensure they can meet rents.
“Landlords have been working in a very positive way to facilitate the retailers. Where there is a willingness on the part of the retailer to work with the landlords, they will be be accommodated,” he said.
“It’s like any new centre. Blanchardstown Centre lost 5 per cent of its retailers in the first year. For any business there is a settling in phase; unfortunately Athlone Towncentre’s is coinciding with a recession.
“It is important that people support local businesses in the town so we can maintain and ringfence jobs. If you live in Athlone you should be spending in Athlone, not Liffey Valley or Dundrum.”
Meanwhile there was positive news for Athlone’s Golden Island shopping centre, which jumped 14 points to take 10th place on the Retail Excellence list.