Patrick O’Donovan, Conn Murray and Denis Brosnan at the Gardens site Picture: Sean Curtin
HOUSE Limerick. Ted’s. The White House, and La Cucina’s Centro on Henry Street.
There has been a sliver of excitement and promise in the commercial sector in the heart of Limerick city this past year, with millions spent on remodelling old premises and giving them a new, sophisticated lease of life.
Seeds planted in 2016 should, one hopes, produce a bounty for Limerick in 2017.
Bars and restaurants aside, there are much bigger projects in the offing, as Limerick kicks off the shackles of the recessionary years and drives forward, with the ambition of becoming the country’s ‘second city’.
And others are taking this seriously, with developer Owen O’Callaghan saying that Cork needs to expand as it risks being eclipsed by Limerick, given the announcement of plans to develop four strategic sites under the €500m Limerick 2030 plan.
On the residential front, 1,674 houses have sold to date in Limerick in 2016 – according to the latest listings with the Property Price Register, the national database of all house sales – down from just over 2,000 the previous year.
However, this new year is expected to see more activity in the residential sector, with planning applications in motion for over 300 houses between Mungret and Annacotty and in the city centre.
But thousands more are needed if Limerick is truly to become a ‘Living City’, as envisaged under the Georgian property incentive scheme, which to date, Government Ministers agree, has not delivered for the city.
With the creation of 954 jobs in Limerick this year, and the realistic possibility of another 1,000 on the horizon in 2017, according to the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, this will continue to add to the pressure on both the rental and owner-occupier markets.
Des O’Malley, of Sherry Fitzgerald, said while the market remains strong, with values increasing by about eight per cent, there aren’t enough new builds on the horizon to meet demand, which will inevitably lead to capital appreciation.
“The family home market is particularly strong, but the number of transactions are down on last year. The market certainly hasn’t grown any bigger, which is a problem, with more people chasing fewer houses.
“It’s difficult to see where the other stock is going to come from. The calamities have gone out of the market in terms of highs and lows. But we’re a little bit stuck – people in big houses have nothing to trade down into, and a lot of people in smaller houses have nothing to trade up to. When we solve that problem, we’ll have an awful lot more activity,” said Mr O’Malley.
Auctioneer Tom Crosse of GVM agreed that while it has been a stable year, it certainly hasn’t been wildly exciting, and lamented that the commercial sector is similarly “conservative and slow”.
The strategic sites under the 2030 designated company, driven by businessman Denis Brosnan, which will require an investment of €500m, make take shape early in the New Year – particularly the 112,000 sq ft Gardens International Office on Henry Street.
Overall, the plan includes the redevelopment of 1.4 million sq ft of prime real estate into state-of-the-art office, retail, residential, education and enterprise space.
“We certainly have the capacity to grow and build the city, especially with our road network. Limerick is much better placed than some other cities on the commercial front, and we have the capacity to build and build quickly,” said Mr O’Malley.
“This is about capitalising on Limerick’s opportunity to become the best placed Limerick city in Europe to capitalise on post-Brexit inward investment opportunities,” said the council’s chief executive Conn Murray.
“Limerick has changed like no other city in Ireland over the past six years, and our job is to change Limerick from a large town into being a very significant city – not just in Ireland, but in western Europe,” said Mr Brosnan.
Build it and they will come. But the pivotal question for Limerick is when will developers return to build them?