HARD-pressed businesses at SkyCourt are actually paying more money to the county council in rates than they are charged for their rent, according to the centre’s manager Pat Kelly.
In a statement this week, Mr Kelly claimed that the rates burden has been partly to blame for many of the closures at SkyCourt.
Despite the collapse in the domestic economy, the level of rates being charged by Clare County Council hasn’t been cut during the recession, despite going up year on year in the years before the economy turned.
It’s a very sore point with many business owners in the county, but the local authority – which is cash-strapped itself – has refused to budge on the matter to date. This week, Council officials were unavailable for comment.
In his statement, Mr Kelly also revealed that Dealz, which trial-traded SkyCourt as a retail location for the past year, has signed a further three-year lease, confirming its commitment to the shopping centre.
Mr Kelly said that Dealz had been pleased with the SkyCourt offering. “It’s normal practice for large retailers to monitor footfall levels in a new location for a period post set-up; this is known as trial trading. Since arriving in Shannon, Dealz, like its fellow retailers Dunnes and Lidl, has become extremely popular with Shannon shoppers, generating the level of footfall required to remain sustainable.”
While there have been some claims that the centre charges high rents, he does not accept that is the case and says there is ample evidence to the contrary.
“The centre has a broad shopping offer in a nice shopping environment with free parking. It’s a competitive location in terms of rent and service charges. When compared to data in the Irish Shopping Centre Review 2010 and 2013, prepared by Retail Excellence Ireland, SkyCourt is positioned as the cheapest shopping centre in the country for service charges and one of the lowest for rent per square foot.
“It’s a misconception that we are charging high rents. We offer very flexible lease terms. We don’t, however, control rates, which is a huge issue for retailers who want to open in the shopping centre. For a lot of the retailers in SkyCourt, rates payable to Clare County Council are higher to the service charge or rent and this is a deterrent to setting up and a factor in many closures. We too would appeal to Clare County Council to urgently review the rates payable in Shannon.”
Calling on the local public for support, Mr Kelly said that an agreement has been reached with the new owners of Xtra-Vision under which they will trial trade until next month, before taking stock and deciding whether or not to keep the Shannon store open.
“It would be very disappointing to lose Xtra-Vision from SkyCourt; we simply have to prove the Shannon store’s viability,” Mr Kelly said.
Commenting on recent closures in SkyCourt, Mr Kelly said that although Shannon has lost three shops since Christmas, this is a reflection of the times, rather than of particular circumstances at SkyCourt. “We do everything in our power to keep shops open but final decision to close are outside our control. There are over 55 businesses in the centre and we are constantly in discussions with national retailers to open in Shannon. SkyCourt needs to be supported through positive publicity, not negative, which only generates uncertainty, insecurity and can ultimately lead to shop closures and the loss of jobs.
“We would appeal to the Shannon community to shop local and support their local Town Centre as this supports our efforts to attract new retailers to SkyCourt. Let’s talk up and highlight the positives that the Town Centre has to offer. We are planning new initiatives for SkyCourt including the launch of a new website and the formation of a customer focus group, representative of all ages and genders in Shannon. Details on the structure of the Focus Group will be publicised in the community in the coming weeks,” Mr Kelly concluded.