SOME of the best up-and-coming fashion designers are to locate in purpose-built units in the Opera Centre, the Limerick Leader can reveal.
And it looks likely that Limerick could secure a share in a major European fund, designed for capital projects, and potentially worth millions to the city.
The Limerick Institute of Technology’s (LIT) vice-president for research Dr Fergal Barry - also this year’s Chamber president - has confirmed his college is planning to open an ‘Irish Fashion Incubator’ in the Lower Patrick Street/Rutland Street section of the Opera Centre site.
The exciting proposals stem from LIT’s €200m masterplan. But it is the first time LIT has explicitly stated the centre will be in the derelict Opera Centre site.
Two units are to be retrofitted for the centre, which will be modelled on LIT’s Hartnett Enterprise Acceleration Centre, which provides start-up spaces for small-to-medium sized enterprises.
Fashion designers from the Limerick School of Art and Design will be given a “free-of-charge, wrap around support service” for the first year of their business, according to Dr Barry.
“This looks to build on the success of the Limerick School of Art and Design. This college is a major success, being in the top 50 schools of art, design and fashion globally. The chief designers of some of the largest fashion labels in the world have graduated from that college. Imagine of some of those design houses were based out of Limerick City Centre,” Dr Barry enthused.
When the centre proceeds, he predicted this could lead to a jobs bonanza.
“If each of those designers created 10 businesses a year over an eight year period, that is 80 new companies. There is a massive multiplier effect there,” he explained.
Meanwhile, Limerick City Council’s economic director Tom Enright has confirmed the local authority is looking “very closely” at the possibility of applying for a multi-million euro European fund, which can be used for capital projects.
The Joint European Support for Sustainable Investment in City Areas (or JESSICA) fund is available from the European Investment Bank.
It makes capital available for certain types of projects which would have economic return, such as office developments, retail developments, public works, pedestrianised schemes, and enterprise parks.
It has never before been used in Ireland, but the British government has taken advantage of the fund, which can be worth up to €200m over a ten-year period.
Interest rates on the loan are much lower than commercial banking rates, which Mr Enright says makes it attractive.
“This is something we are looking at very closely at the moment. We have probably not needed it in Ireland, because up until very recently, when the economy was going well, we did not need to borrow externally. But now, where money is difficult to get, and interest rates have crept up, it suggests this funding model is looking attractive,” he said.
The way the fund is structured means that an initial investment can effectively double or treble.
This is because as the money comes back into the fund from businesses paying it back, it can then be redeployed to other projects, before a final payment is due to Europe. “It is a great way of making capital available,” he concluded.