Council Selects Design Team for Renovation of Historic Fruit and Vegetable Market in Smithfield

Dublin City Council plans to spend around €7.4 million over the next two years on conservation and renovation works on the old Victorian fruit and vegetable market on Mary’s Lane.

The council has selected an architecture firm to do the designs but has not yet signed contracts, said a spokesperson last week.

There are several steps between here and a full reopening, said Green Party Councillor Janet Horner, who sits on a council working group for city markets. “It will still be at least five years until it is up and running as a market,” she said.

In the meantime, the market building should be used for regular cultural events and a transparent process for applying to do that set up, says Social Democrats Councillor Cat O’Driscoll, who has a motion on that pending before the full council. “We have a lack of event spaces across the city.”

Using the building would protect it from becoming rundown too, she says.

A Dublin City Council spokesperson said that several events have taken place in the market building in recent months.

Among them were a dance music event for Culture Night, the Nightmare Realm Halloween experience, a Deadpan Pictures event and a living history project with former market traders, they said.

What Type of Market?

In early 2020, Dublin City Council tried to recruit a market operator who would also take care of the refurbishment.

At the time, independent Councillor Sophie Nicoullaud flagged concerns that introducing a private company as a middle-man could make things more precarious for traders and drive up prices. Small local producers might not be able to afford a pitch, she said.

On Tuesday, Nicoullaud said she thinks the council didn’t get much interest in that call-out, probably because developers didn’t want to take on the conservation works.

Now, the council’s capital programme 2023 to 2025 – which lays out its big infrastructure projects in the coming years – says the council plans to move into phase two of its markets project, and spend €7.4m on the Victorian market in 2023 and 2024.

That money is to come from the Urban Regeneration Development Fund,which is a central government grant scheme, and development levies, which are fees developers pay when building new projects in the city, the report says.

If the council funds the work itself through grants, that should help to keep costs down for stall holders, says Nicoullaud. “It looks like a better model.”

The council should carry out basic refurbishment and get the market back up and running as soon as possible, she says. “There is a crisis for fruit and veg producers in Ireland.”

It should keep the design simple, she says. “To make it affordable for artists and producers and make it affordable for the customers too.”

The building has huge potential and could be used as a market by day and for events and exhibitions in the evening, she says.

Horner says she understands that the produce on sale will be similar to theEnglish Market in Cork, where small food producers can get an affordable stall.

“The vision for it at the moment is good,” says Horner. “It will be a space that will provide for small food production companies in Ireland to sell things.” And where customers can sample a wide range of food at reasonable prices, she says.

Tick Tock, Tick Tock

Horner says it will be years though before the market is up and running due to the staged nature of the tendering process.

The council has selected an architect. So if that company signs on the dotted line, it then begins to draw up the plans for the main works on the building, including conservation works.

According to the council’s capital plan, this includes structural works; refurbishment and conservation of outbuildings, new toilets and a café or restaurant and storage and waste facilities.

And designing an internal layout that will fit roughly 80 retail traders, it says.

Once the council has the designs it will go out to tender for the main building work, which is estimated to take another 16–24 weeks, according to a June memo issued to councillors by Richard Shakespeare, the council’s head of planning.

Once the tenders come back, the council will take four weeks to select a builder, it says. There is no estimate for how long the construction work will take.

Horner says the council will tender for a market operator while the main construction work is underway.

But tendering for the design and construction of the inside of the market can only start once that market operator is appointed as they may need to contribute to the design, she says.

After the internal designs are done, the council will need to tender again to get a builder to do those and the operator will start accepting applications from retailers.

In the Meantime

Judging by the timeline outlined in the memo, Horner fears it could be at least another five years before the market is up and running, she says. “We really need to be more ambitious with the timeline for such important projects.”

The wholesale fruit and veg traders moved out of the market three years ago, she says, so this process should be further underway.

O’Driscoll, the Social Democrats councillor, says the building should be used in the meantime. She has a motion pending with the full council, calling on it to put together a programme of cultural events to host there.

“Performance, exhibition and rehearsal space in the city is not adequate and as a capital city more spaces are needed for culture,” she says in the motion.

O’Driscoll says she attended a dance music event in the market building on Culture Night. “It was unreal, we had a great time.”

The way to the toilets could have been lit up better, she says, but those are the kind of glitches that could be easily ironed out if the building was used more for events.

It would be suitable for a wide variety of short-term events, she says.

There is clear demand for event spaces, but so far the council has not worked out an application process or a protocol for use of the market building, she said.

A lack of transparency around how the council decides who should get temporary use of which buildings as they await redevelopment is a leitmotif in debates about council arts management.

“I’ve been really struggling to find out why there isn’t stuff happening there most days,” says O’Driscoll.

A council spokesperson said that there isn’t an application process to use the markets. “As each event is different in its needs, size, demographic and infrastructure requirements”.

The council has a preferece for animated uses with public engagement, they said.

The building is a warehouse and does not have the normal services associated with a for-hire event venue, they said. “This makes it expensive for staging events. These uses are only allowed as interim measures until construction begins.”

[UPDATE: This article was updated at 10.14am on 7 December to add a response from Dublin City Council as to its process for renting out the building.]

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Author:

Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at [email protected]

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