A proposal advocating short-term ‘pop-up shops’ in vacant commercial premises in Westport was circulated to Westport Town Councillors recently. Such a move would support ‘local enterprise, retail initiative and employment through the proactive encouragement of innovation and entrepreneurship’, it said.
Westport Town Clerk Ann Moore outlined the proposal at the March monthly meeting. The scheme would be confined to new enterprises, and priority would be given to those enterprises that complement existing businesses in the town.
A second scheme, ‘The Business Incentive Scheme’, was also proposed. It would be aimed at longer-term retail businesses, which would take longer leases on commercial premises that have been vacant for at least six months.
The new Town Manager, Martin Keating told councillors that it was ‘very important that the Town Council show leadership in this area’. He accepted that he did not know how successful such initiatives would be, but he argued that ‘if we don’t try we will never know’.
To facilitate the proposals, the Town Council would be required to compile a comprehensive list of vacant properties, invite expressions of interest and match up interested parties with available properties. The shorter-term pop-up shops would be given a six to eight week rental/lease period, and a rates remission would be allowed for the period.
The Business Incentive Scheme will be applicable to new start-up businesses only and lease will be entered for a minimum of two years. The scheme would allow applicants claim back 50 per cent of fit-out costs, and they would be subject to a rates refund of up to 50 per cent of annual rates demand.
The proposals were broadly welcomed by the councillors, who said that Westport was the type of town where such initiatives could work. However, some queried how the pop-up shops would work in practice, and feared that they may undermine existing businesses.
Labour councillor Keith Martin said he would not be in favour of pop-up-shops because he felt they would affect existing ratepayers with people coming in during the busy summer months and ‘cleaning up’ without contributing to the town. Fine Gael councillor Tereasa McGuire also said they had to be mindful of existing businesses and she did not want to see ‘fly-by-night operators’.
Mr Keating said that they had deliberately put a six- to eight-week lease limit to avoid that, and that they wanted businesses to be available ‘all year round’. He said proposals had been circulated to the Chamber of Commerce, which would try to implement them as soon as the consultation process is completed.
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