The proposal to transform Kilkenny City’s Tholsel building into a tourist and civic information centre has failed to find favour with a number of borough council members, who feel the project would be an inappropriate use for the historic structure.
The information centre idea was one of a number of proposals put forward to the local authorities under the ‘Medieval Mile’ project. The unease about the proposed scheme surfaced at the February meeting of Kilkenny Borough Council.
Director of Services John Mulholland informed the members that concept designs and costings for two of the Medieval Mile ideas – the Tholsel and the ‘vertical garden’ – were to be prepared in the coming months.
But Cllr Malcolm Noonan (Green Party) said he would like a wider debate about the future use of the building.
“It has been an important part of local Government for a long time,” he said.
“I would not be of the opinion that turning it into a tourist office is an appropriate use. I think that this building holds a very special place in the hearts of people in Kilkenny.”
City manager Joe Crockett made a clarification.
“In relation to the Tholsel – the proposal is that only the area below would become available,” he said.
“It is also not just tourist information, it is citizens’ and our own. But this is still a proposal – it is not decided.”
Cllr John Coonan (FF) said: “This is a civic building for 300/400 years, and it is special. There is no reason why that should change.”
Previously, Cllr Joe Malone (FF) asserted that the building would be better being converted into a soup kitchen, such is the level of poverty in the city. Cllr Malone was again outspoken at the meeting, however, this time about the vertical garden project.
“I propose that any work on the garden stops immediately,” he said.
“I think it is crazy to spend €1.1 million on a garden.”
Cllr Andrew McGuinness expressed similar sentiments.
“I want to join concerns in relation to City Hall; the history of this building should remain here,” he said.
“I also understand Cllr Malone’s anger in relation to the garden – I know it is not in our remit to redirect funds, but people are stopping us to say ‘you are opening a garden, but closing down garda stations’.”
However, Joe Crockett said there was a bigger picture.
“This is about economic development,” he said.
“You wanted more people to come here and stay longer. Gardens are a huge element of attraction in the south-east.
“There are very few cities in the world which have tried to create huge attractions around rivers and gardens. This would be of such significance – international significance – that it would cause a large number of tourists to come to Kilkenny.