LETTERKENNY’S first ever Town Centre Manager is to leave his post this month, due to lack of funding to continue with the project, it has been confirmed.
Mr Dessie Larkin, a former Mayor of Donegal County Council and Letterkenny Town Council, took up his position eighteen months ago. The original funding was provided by Main Street retailers and matched by the then Letterkenny Town Council.
Mr Mark Bundschu of ABC bookshop, who had been spearheading the ‘Town Team’ initiative that led to the hiring of Mr Larkin said it was “a sad day” for Letterkenny.
He explained that the private funding was in place to kick start the project in the hope that the Council would provide ongoing funding after the first year. However the Council has not included any funding to sustain the project in its 2016 budget.
Speaking to this paper yesterday (Thursday), Mr Bundschu said that he felt the continuation of the project was essential for the town. He pointed to the fact that other towns around Ireland were copying the Town Team model, as well as hiring town centre managers, and expressed concern that Letterkenny could now be left behind.
He said there has been an increase in footfall on the main street and a drop in the number of vacant units since Mr Larkin took up the position in September 2014.
“Letterkenny is on the crest of a wave at the moment due to the strength of Sterling, the price of petrol, the recovering economy and some strong job announcements. However, these factors won’t always be at play and it is only when these factors diminish that we will see the real effect of the end of this project,” Mr Bundschu said.
“The Town Team owe a debt of gratitude to Dessie for the sterling work he has done in attracting new businesses and footfall to the Town Centre. I am personally very disappointed by this development, particularly at a time when an Oireachtas Committee has been set up to look at how best to ensure that our town centres can stay viable into the future.
“When this project was set up, Letterkenny propelled itself to the forefront of the national movement to protect our town centres but we have now been left behind as other councils around the country have actively promoted their towns by working towards improving the retail mix on their Main Streets,” he said.
“The Town Centre Manager was able to meet potential tenants and act on their behalf and he was able to point them all in the one direction. Now, they (potential tenants) will have to ring around three or four local auctioneers – all operating on behalf of the landlord,” he added.
Letterkenny Chamber was involved in the initiative from the beginning and is also disappointed to see the project ending.
“Over the past year the Town Team initiative has made some significant progress. From the outset we were keen to see a concentration on the traditional town centre that would help all of us in our objective of making Letterkenny, as a town, more vibrant and successful. We would have liked to see the project continue but unfortunately funding is not available to make this happen,” John Bowe, Chamber President said.
Mr Larkin said it was a great honour to be engaged as the Town Centre manager.
“It is evident that ‘normal economic growth’ will not be enough to reverse the decline of our Town Centres,” he said.
“The success of the Project could not have happened without the support of many individuals and groups. In this regard I would like to acknowledge the support of Mark Bundschu, Chairperson and the other directors of Letterkenny Town Team Ltd., all the businesses on Main Street, members of the Town Team, the Letterkenny Chamber, as well as the people of Letterkenny and its environs for the tremendous support they have shown the Main Street over the period of the scheme, long may this continue, ‘Realising our potential together’,” Mr Larkin said.
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