BELFAST based developer Suneil Sharma has revealed plans to create up to 1,000 jobs at the former Parkway Valley site, in addition to up to 500 construction jobs.
Mr Sharma was speaking to the Limerick Leader following confirmation by Marks & Spencer that they intend to open a flagship 72,000 sq ft unit at the site formerly known as Parkway Valley on the Dublin Road.
The long-awaited announcement by Marks & Spencer was greeted with mixed views across the region, with many critical that the development - subject to full planning - could further damage the vitality and retail sector of the city.
M&S said they hope to open their first store in Limerick by the autumn of 2016, creating 250 jobs, after announcing 180 job losses with the imminent closure of four other stores in the country.
Mr Sharma said he’s “delighted they’re going to be one of the key retailers” for the site, now renamed Horizon Mall.
“We’ve worked very hard with them to get them to this position, because the overall job creation including Marks & Spencer would be circa 1000 jobs, a massive economic boost for the city and the region. We’re very happy with that, but obviously we have a process to get through.”
“We’ll be fully engaging with the local authorities on this over the coming weeks and months. I think in the next six months you will see the whole thing unfolding. I think people need to realise this is not a negative for Limerick. There’ll be lots of disposable income coming in to the region. We’ll be delighted to engage with all stakeholders in the city. We’re determined to create something with impact for Limerick and we believe this is the right thing for Limerick now.”
He said in renaming the centre he wanted to get away from the former “negative” connotations of Parkway Valley, and said the development represents a “new horizon” and a “new opportunity” for Limerick.
He said it will represent “one of the largest investments in Ireland” over the next two years. The site has been partially constructed, and he said that existing structure is still “sound” and will not have to be demolished.
In a statement, M&S said: “Heads of terms have been agreed and, subject to completion of contracts, the store is proposed to open in 2016, creating 250 new jobs.”
The site, which lies just outside the city’s boundary, has been subject to planning approval by Limerick County Council.
Mr Sharma, one of the original developers behind the Opera centre site in the site, took over the plans for Parkway Valley from developer Liam Carroll following the collapse of his property empire.
Limerick Chamber and Retail Excellence Ireland have expressed hopes that the company will reconsider its decision.
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said the announcement is “great news for Limerick” and “a further sign that investor confidence is building in Limerick city.
“It is of course regrettable that this announcement comes as part of a broader restructuring of Marks & Spencer in Ireland,” he said.
Tom Enright, economic director at City Hall, said he was “disappointed” that a location outside the city had been chosen by M&S.
Maria Kelly, CEO of Limerick Chamber, said: “It is important to highlight that any development in the Parkway Valley is subject to planning consent and we understand that significant hurdles need to be overcome before anything can happen.”
She said “the right strategic move would be for M&S to locate in the city centre - not in the suburbs.
“Limerick is an up and coming city that is going through an exciting transformation, we have a new and engaged management team in our joint local authority and an ambitious economic masterplan that sets out a vision for Limerick to 2030.
“The Chamber would welcome and invite M&S to review all viable and potentially more attractive city centre sites in informing their locational decision,” she said.
However, with nearly 19,000 people on the Live Register in Limerick - including 13,000 in the city - a number of politicians have said that any jobs announcement for the region should be welcomed, especially in a time of recession.