THE chairperson of the Limerick City Business Association says Suneil Sharma’s proposal to redevelop the Opera Centre “doesn’t fit well in terms of reality”.
Helen O’Donnell was speaking after it emerged that the developer who has plans to build an out-of-town shopping centre, the Horizon Mall, on the Dublin Road also wants to help complete the currently derelict Opera Centre site - a project he sold his interest in five years ago.
Meanwhile, prominent local businessman Michael Gleeson has criticised Cathaoirleach Kevin Sheahan for his support of the Horizon Mall project, saying “he must not have been in the city centre for some time” to see the impact of out-of-town shopping.
The Limerick Leader this week revealed that Mr Sharma wants to secure the contract to develop the site along the lines of the Limerick 2030 plan, which is expected to see the construction of a third-level student village, a new tax office and a public square.
However, the news was met with scepticism by Ms O’Donnell.
She said: “We have been here before. He came in, he bought up the land, and we were all delighted and excited. But I am living, eating, breathing and sleeping almost in that derelict site for the last eight years, trying to make a living at the Hunt Museum. It just doesn’t fit well in terms of reality.”
She also questioned whether his plans - raised in a meeting with Mayor Michael Sheahan and confirmed by his spokesperson - are “hype” or “real”, adding: “I just wonder where the real starts and ends here. In the city centre, we have been hanging on by our fingernails in business with a huge number of empty spaces.”
Ms O’Donnell said retailers are “anxious” about out-of-town offerings.
Despite this, council leader Cllr Sheahan said last week that he would like to see the go-ahead for the Horizon Mall shopping centre project - which could potentially bring with it Limerick’s first Marks & Spencer.
But in a strongly worded letter to the Limerick Leader, William Street shop owner Mr Gleeson, who has sold shoes in the city centre for 50 years, said this attitude “shows nothing has been learned over the past 25 years”.
“Over the past 25 years, councillors and planners have made decisions which have decimated towns and cities all over Ireland and in particular Limerick,” he wrote.
Mr Gleeson also indicated that Cllr Sheahan should be careful what he wishes for.
“He must not realise what this new development would do to towns on his doorstep [like] Askeaton, Newcastle West and Abbeyfeale. The plan for the city centre has to be brought forward before it’s too late,” businessman Mr Gleeson concluded.
See Letters to the Editor and editorial comment in this week’s Limerick Leader, print editions.