UP to 3,000 people could one day be employed in modern office developments in or around the vast Opera Centre site as Limerick City Council moves towards a masterplan for the derelict blocks.
Purchased with the help of central government for €12.5 million in late 2011, entire city blocks around Patrick Street have remained a vacant eyesore since.
But Tom Enright, director of economic development and planning for Limerick, said at a meeting this week: “We don’t want to see a large derelict site in the heart of the city in five or 10 years ... the fact it is in public ownership presents a great opportunity for us to ensure it is developed in a timely fashion.”
A masterplan for the Opera Centre site should be prepared by the end of the year and would complement the economic and spatial plan for Greater Limerick currently being drafted by GVA consultants and on which city and county councillors are to be jointly briefed at a special meeting next month.
Mr Enright cautioned members of the economic and planning committee that it would take at least three years before any new development takes place but the ambition was for a variety of uses – not just the retail element planned by the backers of the failed Opera Centre venture.
“We see a range of uses; not only retail but attracting office jobs so we can get more people in employment right in the heart of our city,” he said.
Negotiations continued with third level institutions to bring a college faculty to the area, while student accommodation could also be an element of the plan.
“There could be a modest level of other residential uses but we don’t see it as being suitable for large social housing,” Mr Enright said.
“We could ultimately have 2,000 to 3,000 people working within the area,” Mr Enright told councillors.
Speaking to the Leader, Mr Enright expanded on the vision for the site and for the city centre.
“We want to attract office employment to the city centre and companies I have been talking to want to be part of that. They don’t want to be stuck on an industrial estate; they want to be part of a thriving city centre,” he said. “There have been too many developments over the last 20 and 30 years that are now past their best. We all know where they are.
“Even Cruises Street, built 20 years ago, now has a 25% vacancy rate. The Savoy Centre that was built in the 1980s was demolished a few years ago.”
Committee chairman Cllr Diarmuid Scully welcomed the fact that “we are now very far away from the original thought that if we could only get Marks and Spencers in, everything was going to be fine. The city is oversupplied in retail but what it is undersupplied in is employment.
“The biggest problem we have had in Limerick city centre is suitable serviced office space of a high enough spec to be suitable for foreign direct investment. The Opera Centre hopefully will provide that and I want to applaud what is being done by GVA and by Tom Enright,” Cllr Scully said.
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