Decline of Connaught Street shown through vacant units

Councillors at Monday’s meeting of the Athlone Municipal District (November 7 ) collectively expressed their concerns regarding the current state and future of Connaught Street.

The discussion comes in the wake of the recent closure of two businesses that have formed part of the fabric of the west side of the town for more than 20 years, Callinan’s Butchers and A Slice of Life.

Local Fianna Fáil councillor Aengus O’Rourke said he raised the issue “with a heavy heart”. He told the chamber that of the 54 residential and commercial properties on the street an alarming 27 (50 per cent ) currently stand vacant. He also pointed to a similar unfolding on Pearse Street, where 10 properties stand idle out of 28.

Cllr O’Rourke urged all in attendance to “think outside of the box” when deciding the best solution to the problem. He suggested examining the thinking behind the Living City Initiative, a scheme of property tax incentives rolled out in selected cities in Ireland to regenerate specific areas in those cities, and questioned whether a similar scheme could be rolled out to rejuvenate areas in towns like Athlone. Cllr O’Rourke did concede that the time may have come to convert many of the properties on Connaught Street from commercial to residential use.

Fine Gael councillor Tom Farrell said it is “sad to see a street with so much history half empty”. He suggested stakeholders from the area be invited to an in-committee meeting to discuss possible measures that could be taken by the local authority to aid the situation.

Sinn Féin councillor Paul Hogan said discussions regarding Connaught Street are “long overdue”. He supported the call to open correspondence with the Minister for Finance and for the council to do anything in its power to support local traders.

Mayor of Athlone John Dolan said Connaught Street “used to be vibrant” and suggested that the two shopping centres in the town may have drawn away some of the footfall that used to frequent the area. He too supported the call to organise a meeting with stakeholders.

Director of services Barry Kehoe said Connaught Street has been suffering gradual decline for the last 20 years. He expressed his interest in meeting the traders from the area in an effort to see if the council can do anything to help. He said it is possible that converting the street into predominantly residential properties might be the correct way forward, as he is “not sure the commercial capacity” exists any more to make the street amenable to succesful business.

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