01 Jul 2022

Cost soars to convert derelict Portlaoise hotel into apartments

Cost soars to convert protected derelict Portlaoise hotel into apartments

The old County Hotel on Portlaoise Main Street, awaiting a housing renovation by Laois County Council. Photo: Lynda Kiernan

Resolving one of the most prominent derelict buildings on Portlaoise Main Street continues to pose huge difficulties to Laois County Council.

The old County Hotel is in a dangerous derelict state but its protected architectural status is slowing plans to convert it into small apartments for council tenants.

The cost is now estimated by Clúid to reach €7million averaging "north of €700,000" for each of the 10 apartments, according to some Portlaoise councillors.

Laois County Council bought the derelict building in 2018 with the aim to refurbish it, paying some €155,000. It is now to request that it be removed from the national protected structures list, in order to replace it with a new apartment building at a lower cost.

Their intention was revealed at the February meeting of Portlaoise Muncipal District.

"The planning authority will explore the removal of the County Hotel from the Record of Protected Structures. The building is rated as being of Regional Importance on the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage," acting senior planner David O'Hara said.

He adds that the Main Street itself is within an Architectural Conservation area, so a new building must preserve the character and building heights and lines. 

He wrote in reply to a motion by Cllr Thomasina Connell asking them to explore and explain the process of removing the protected status.

"We all had a meeting on site and it appears to be a very difficult site with the size, shape and structure on Main Street. My concern is pushing through this project at a reasonable cost to the taxpayer. We need housing but it would would be extremely expensive to do what is required as a protected structure. I appreciate it has a lot of heritage, my own parents danced there, but we need to deliver housing in a cost effective way," she said. 

Cllr Barry Walsh, a quantity surveyer, suggested that the status be reduced only to the facade.

"The cost sounds exhorbitant, as if written on the back of a cigarette box that someone didn't want to do," he said.

The motion was seconded by Cllr Willie Aird who agreed that the meeting left all the councillors "aghast" at the cost which he understands is €700,000 per apartment. 

"They said it would require the closure of Main Street for 12 months, and cost north of €700,000 per apartment. There is no way anybody could stand over that. We had to buy that site, there was nobody else for it. 

"I thank the housing section for boarding it up. They agreed to paint it in the next few days. There is no way we could leave it as it is to be fair to the Tidy Towns. We are spending huge money on the old heritage part of town. When it's public money it has to be cost effective," he said.

Cllr Caroline Dwane Stanley said it was "impossible to justify the cost".

"Cluid were put in an awful position, they got the short straw. A chimney could fall down in a good storm. It might be the thing to do a favour," she said.

Cllr Catherine Fitzgerald predicts it will be years before the old hotel is redeveloped.

"Bridge Street needs help as well, there are other buildings there that have to be addressed," she said.

Cllr Connell has since told the Leinster Express that the estimate of €700,000 per apartment was not given by Clúid, but instead a figure half that sum. 

"Clúid has a cost plan in place that gives an average of €330,000 per apartment. I would still have difficulty approving that spend of taxpayers' money, when the average apartment in Portlaoise sells at €150,000.

"They said that given they would have to close off Main Street and bring in a crane to lift materials over the front. At the rear there is only a gated laneway under buildings," Cllr Connell added. 

To continue reading this article for FREE,
please kindly register and/or log in.

Registration is absolutely 100% FREE and will help us personalise your experience on our sites. You can also sign up to our carefully curated newsletter(s) to keep up to date with your latest local news!

Register / Login

Buy the e-paper of the Donegal Democrat, Donegal People's Press, Donegal Post and Inish Times here for instant access to Donegal's premier news titles.

Keep up with the latest news from Donegal with our daily newsletter featuring the most important stories of the day delivered to your inbox every evening at 5pm.