THE developer who was originally behind the ill-fated Opera Centre has dismissed the potential for major new retail in Limerick city centre, complaining that construction costs are “prohibitive”.
Belfast-based Suneil Sharma sold on his interest in the Opera Centre before the project collapsed, leaving a vast derelict city in the heart of the city.
He is now the man driving the Parkway Valley site on the Dublin Road, which was originally given planning permission by Limerick County Council for a development of 50 shops, with three anchor tenants and 1,650 car-parking spaces.
The project was abandoned three years ago when developer Liam Carroll’s Zoe Group collapsed. It is understood that Mr Sharma has agreed terms with National Irish Bank to take over the project and would control 100 per cent of the equity.
“I’m one of the few developers around on the island who has access to funding,” he said, adding: “I’m in this business 20 years and I’m still standing. We are ready to take on this challenge in Limerick. I have the best development team in Ireland around me.”
In order to proceed, however, Mr Sharma needs Limerick County Council to extend the planning permission granted to the site. A decision on this is due in October.
In its editorial column three weeks ago, the Limerick Leader urged the Council to reject the application. City councillors and business interests in the city have also argued that the project should not proceed and that the focus should instead be on the struggling city centre.
However, Mr Sharma told the Leader this Wednesday that he no longer believes that major retail development in the city is viable. He said in the current climate, any development “has to be credible” if it is to receive financial backing.
“The cost of construction in city centre development is prohibitive. That is the reality. Our financial model [for the Parkway Valley site] works in the real world.
“Limerick city centre is not going to be a mecca for retailing – that is just not going to happen.”
“The story is plus, plus, plus for Limerick – it is win, win, win. When people see the comprehensive development plan there is going to be buy-in – but I can’t release it yet because it’s not quite ready.”