Sunday 15 July 2007

Dublin's GPO to close only to rise again as a smart shopping centre

THE GPO in O'Connell Street, Dublin, is to close - as a general post office.

The Government has grand plans to "open it up to a public" in a revamp costing €250m that will turn the inconic building and its huge interior courtyards into a mixed development of museums, restaurants, galleries, shops and performance areas for the arts.

The redevelopment of the site is linked to the celebration of the centenary of 1916 in nine years' time.

Secret discussions have been taking place over a long period between the Office of Public Works and architects and planners about making the GPO a "focal point" for huge development plans in the northern quarter of Dublin city.

"There are considerable architectural possibilities about what can be done with it," said the Minister in charge of the Office of Public Works, Noel Ahern TD, yesterday.

"There are enormous possibilities if we get the right mix of creative ideas," he said.

A think tank involving the ultra-trendy architects Foster & Partners of London, who designed the proposed expansion of U2's Clarence Hotel, has been involved in looking at the GPO complex and possibilities for opening it up from the surrounding streets such as Henry Street and Prince'sStreet.

With the post office counters removed there will be free access into the massive interior of the building.

"The think tank came at it from an architectural point of view; now it is a case of moving on and talking to the stakeholders" said the minister. He believes that work will have to start in the next year or two if the Government's plans are to be completed in time for the 2016 celebration.

Included in the plan is a glass cover for the vast courtyards, new archway entrances from adjoining streets and a multi-story interior which could even include an element of upmarket apartments, depending on a final agreement for the building and its courtyards.

Minister Ahern wants the building to retain the historic name of the GPO and to retain a post office "at some level", but this would only be one element of the development, which is at the early planning stages.

In the next couple of weeks meetings will be held with various interested bodies, including An Post, to discuss the plans.

The future of the GPO is now linked to the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, which is seen as a "seminal moment" in the development of Irish independence and the modern state.

An integral part of the plan is for a "creative" museum which will celebrate the 100 years since Padraig Pearse, James Connolly and the Irish Volunteers occupied the building in 1916, beginning the final phase of the struggle for Irish independence.

The front facade of the building remains from the original GPO designed by Francis Johnston and erected in 1818. Much of the rest of it was destroyed by shelling in 1916. Ironically this facilitates the development of the courtyards and other buildings on the site, making development a much easier proposition because much of the fabric of the vast site was built after 1916.

Noel Ahern has already presided over a series of meetings of an informal group which has been charged with celebrating the centenary of 1916 and opening up the historic site for public use.

"We want people in there, we want a lively place so that people can walk in off O'Connell Street," said Minister Ahern.

He also believes that it should be more than "dawn to dusk" and that the GPO site will be a vibrant place for visitors well into the night, and that in conjunction with other developments in the area can turn O'Connell Street into a vibrant part of the city.

Last week Arnott's department store, which is controlled by barrister Richard Nesbitt, got the go-ahead for a €750m redevelopment of its huge land bank in Abbey Street, Henry Street and Prince's Street, which includes the former Independent Newspapers site.

The Arnott's site, the GPO site and the Carlton site, which extends back into Moore Street, will all become part of a 5.5-acre redevelopment of what has now been called the Northern Quarter.

The scheme, which has been been approved by Dublin City Council, will be 12 to 15 storeys high in places.

The Office of Public Works, which is to begin consultation with stakeholders in the GPO in the next couple of weeks, is determined that the old post office will become the focal point of this development. The best architects and planners will be involved in the design process.

At present, An Post uses the GPO building as a company headquarters - and although it is a famous meeting point in the centre of Dublin it is generally considered that its presence has 'deadened' the area rather than adding to the vigour and attractiveness of O'Connell Street and the surrounding area.

Sunday Independent

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