FAR-REACHING plans to overhaul the retail experience in Limerick city and save its future from the threat of the so-called ‘doughnut effect’ will be revealed in the coming month.
Tom Enright, director of planning and economic development, has revealed plans by the joint local authority to transform the Opera Centre site, Arthur’s Quay shopping centre and park, and the abandoned Dunnes Stores building on Sarsfield Street. Mr Enright declined to reveal the plans in great detail prior to the publication of the report, but confirmed that Opera Centre site on Patrick and Ellen Street would finally begin to take shape in the next 18 months to two years.
After lying largely vacant for six years, the site was purchased by Limerick City Council for €12.5m last year. He said discussions with Limerick Institute of Technology with regarding to occupying part of this site are at “an advanced stage”, amongst other interested tenants. The council’s entire planning office will occupy the former AIB building on Patrick Street, over four floors, by mid-year, with 70 staff based there.
“What’s coming to light is that while there is planning permission there for very large retail, that is not the type of use we see in the long-term for the Opera Centre site. We feel there will be more of a mix of use, with commercial office space, third level facilities, some modest level of retail with other civic and cultural uses.
“That’s what’s emerging from the report. We’ll be acting straight away on it [the report]. It’s a key site in the city centre, it’s within our control, and it’s a site that we need to use to start the revitalisation process for the city centre, in cleaning up what is a derelict and vacant three-acre site in the heart of the city. We want to ensure that that site is developed over the next number of years, and that it encourages people to live and work within the city.” In contrast to previous occasions, when it was mooted as Limerick’s “shopping mecca”, Mr Enright said they are “getting to the stage now of having a plan for the Opera site and the types of use that it could accommodate. We haven’t been at that stage before.
“It would be wrong to look at the Opera site in isolation in the city centre, because we need to look at other sites that aren’t performing well.
“There’s a lot of locations within the city centre we want to try to redevelop and revitalise, and link those together. We’re not looking at independent sites on their own.
“It would be wrong to just look at the Opera site on its own without knowing and deciding what’s going to happen on the other sites as well. The plan will be comprehensive for the city centre, and will show the potential for development over the next number of years.”