PLANS to introduce free Wi-Fi in Armagh city centre – as exclusively revealed by Armagh I in September – have been confirmed by a Stormont Minister.
Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland has revealed that the introduction of Wi-Fi – which we first reported would be rolled out within the main commercial heart of the city – will go ahead as part of two new ‘revitalisation’ packages for Armagh.
Mr McCausland’s Department has weighed in with £264,000 to make the plans – which include works to tackle the high level of dereliction in the city – a reality.
It follows on from almost £6 million already invested in a public realm scheme to improve the overall appearance of the city streets in recent years, and allows that now to be extended to take in College Street.
Supporters say the ambitious plans will strengthen and improve existing retail provision and promote Armagh as a leading tourist destination. This would, in turn, attract visitors and investors and reduce the blight from a number of vacant properties and ‘gap sites’.
The completion of the College Street public realm scheme will contribute to the overall regeneration of the city centre, enhancing the visitor experience and creating further levels of investment in this area.
Said Minister McCausland: “Armagh is a city with great potential but, like many other towns and cities, it faces a struggle to remain competitive in the current economic climate. Therefore I am pleased to announce this additional funding to help further revitalise Armagh city centre, to further enhance the commercial core, benefiting businesses, retailers, residents and visitors alike.”
He went on: “The completion of the College Street scheme within the city centre is great news for the businesses and residents of Armagh and will contribute to the completeness of public realm work in the city centre.
“I know that these regeneration initiatives can really make a difference to our city centres and I am encouraged by the dedication and commitment of both Armagh City and District Council, along with Armagh City Centre Management, in their efforts to regenerate Armagh city centre.”
Proposals for the revitalisation project include a ‘Get Online’ mentoring scheme, installation of free Wi-Fi in the city centre, a spring retail showcase evening and new market stalls.
There will also be a ‘spruce-up’ scheme for some 40 business premises and nine derelict properties, and a feature lighting design to highlight the “architectural distinctiveness” of the city centre at night.
The aims for the College Street scheme include “enhanced streetscape, improved perceptions of safety at night, enhanced linkages with the Mall and a positive welcome to visitors to the city centre”.
Armagh Lord Mayor Sharon Haughey said she was delighted by this latest funding announcement.
“Although over the last number of years we have seen great improvements in the physical environment in Armagh city centre, there is still much work to be done,” she commented.
“The funding of an environmental improvement scheme in College Street is great news and will help connect this key entry point to the city centre with the iconic Mall. Throughout the recession, Armagh has held its own, maintaining footfall, due to its resilient and high quality independent businesses and the strong partnership ethos with Armagh City Centre Management Committee.
“Although customers may not have as much to spend, projects such as the revitalisation project help Armagh to raise the bar and set us apart from other towns.”
Art O’Hagan – who chairs Armagh City Centre Management – hopes this latest injection of funding will give Armagh the edge over its competitors.
He said: “We have had great ideas and support from local businesses as to how Armagh city centre should react to the challenging economic climate.
“Our objective is to increase footfall generally and ensure our customers have a great experience when they are here – this funding will help us in particular to tackle some of our more long-term vacant and derelict sites. These sites will, firstly, be cleaned up and secured, before adding graphics at a later date to help prospective investors visualise their long-term development potential.”