LIMERICK City and County Council chief executive Conn Murray has defended plans to build an €18m footbridge over the Shannon.
Despite opposition in many quarters, Mr Murray says the fact tourism agency Failte Ireland, and a number of other individuals, are prepared to row in behind the idea to link Arthur’s Quay to the Treaty Stone, would suggest it is a good idea.
“If Failte Ireland have faith in what Limerick can provide, if they believe we can put something iconic into the heart of our city which will add to the welcome, to the status of our city, I think it is something we should consider,” Mr Murray said.
Speaking at a special event to give local businesspeople an update on the Limerick 2030 economic renewal scheme recently, Mr Murray also revealed there have been seven “serious” submissions to develop the Opera Centre site in Patrick Street.
The site is earmarked for development for a mixed-use educational and retail space, with the city’s three third-level colleges coming together. The €100m plan remains on track to proceed within 18 months, he added.
Mr Murray also confirmed the council had now secured full ownership of the Hanging Gardens site at Henry Street. Like the Opera Centre area, this was meant to be largely a retail development.
But now the council is to convert the site - which has long lain derelict - into part of an office quarter for the city.
“We have also acquired what was Thomond Office Supplies beside the facility. We have gone to tender on the contract to redesign the area and we want to be in a position where we have construction commencing by year-end,” Mr Murray added.
The council boss acknowledged there have been some ‘title issues’ with sites around the Arthur’s Quay area, and refused to rule out Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) to bring land into local authority ownership.
He said: “We have been in negotiations with the Office of Public Works for the best part of 12 months to rectify title issues which are stalling advancement of the project around Arthur’s Quay. If necessary, this will include the CPO of lands. We don’t want to go there, but we need to progress it, and need to do it fast, because we cannot hold up the development of our city and county.”
The main proposal for the Arthur’s Quay area is the demolition of Sarsfield House, with the revenue staff moving to a purpose-built office in the Opera Centre site.
A large piece of land - to be seen as ‘the front garden of the city’ - will form part of an extension to Arthur’s Quay park.
It is hoped a medical village will take shape around the Locke Quay area, where Barrington’s Hospital is located, with Mr Murray praising LIT for introducing a medical-technology programme.
A number of traders present were positive about the 2030 plans, but said a shorter-term plan is needed now to address the ongoing reduction of footfall into the city.
James Ryan, who manages two Centra stores in the city, said trade has dropped by 8%. He said although occupancy rates have increased, he asked “how many of these new shops are genuine attractors?”
And from a city that once had several authorities serving it, there is unified purpose, with the City and County Council being the lead body.
CEO Murray has received assurances from government there will be no other public authority established locally. “We are establishing Limerick as a desirable location for people to invest. We must compete in the context of the Mid-West, not with our colleagues in Galway, Cork and Dublin. We must place ourselves on the international platform we deserve to be on,” he concluded.