THE centrepiece of Limerick city’s €250m economic renewal plan - the Opera Centre - may not be complete until 2019 or 2020, it has emerged.
The derelict Patrick Street site is the main development in the Limerick 2030 plan, and will house a higher education campus, combining facilities from the Limerick Institute of Technology, UL and Mary Immaculate College under the Limerick 2030 proposals.
As well as this, there will be office space for the Revenue Commissioners who will move out of Sarsfield House, which is set for demolition.
But the council’s outgoing economic director Tom Enright has said to avoid “piecemeal” development of the site - purchased by the council in 2011 - it could be “four to five years” before it is complete.
“To get the development completed, between getting the advice we need in terms of the financial and legal structures, getting the planning permission secured, and private investment, we are looking at a minimum of five years,” he admitted.
Mr Enright said it is a case of “being patient” on the site.
“What we are proposing is that it will all be done under one construction project, rather than having a piecemeal development. Four or five years is not a long time. (It is a) major investment which will bring between 5,000 and 6,000 people into the city centre, between working in it and education,” Mr Enright added.
He said it is important that the development is of a high standard.
“Its quality will be sustainable, so that in 50 years’ time, it will still be there.”
Mr Enright - who will leave Limerick next week to take on a new role as Wexford county manager - says there has been “considerable interest” from the private sector to develop at the Opera site, and elsewhere.
“We had an investor who presented some plans he had already done, and he had the finance in place to make it happen,” he revealed.
The City Council will next year invite formal submissions from the private sector to help turn the Limerick 2030 plan into a reality.
Aside from the Opera Centre, the proposals will see six other area of the city transformed, including a new shopping area at Arthur’s Quay, the demolition of Sarsfield House, and a new plaza taking in Davis Street and the railway station area.
Discussions are ongoing with the University of Limerick on its plans for the Opera Centre site, Mr Enright added.
“We have advanced with the University our commitment to bring an academic building which will house between 500 and 700 students, together with accommodation for up to 400 students,” he said.
With the revenue commissioners, and the University, Mr Enright said the Opera Centre would have “two strong anchor developments which will attract private investment”, as well as “high quality office developments of scale”.
The original plans for the Opera Centre site would have seen a high-profile shopping centre. At its height, the land was valued at €100m. However, City Council eventually bought the site for a cut price €12.5m after it had lain idle for six years.