LIMERICK City and County Council has voted to transfer the asset of the multi-million euro Hanging Gardens site into a wholly owned company, which was also used to advance the development of Troy Studios in Castletroy.
The motion to transfer the site on Henry Street – which was previously partially developed by Robert Butler and bought from Nama by the local authority – was broadly welcomed by councillors across the city and county at a meeting in County Hall in Dooradoyle this Wednesday evening.
It has been transferred to LCO Ltd under the section 183 process to enable the project to move forward with greater speed, but the asset will remain under the ownership of the council.
The five-storey property, which saw €15 million invested in it during the boom, was put up for sale for a mere €800,000. Mr Butler said at the time that it would another €12m to complete it.
While it could cost millions to develop, the return to the city is said to be "priceless".
Fianna Fail councillor James Collins said that while the council is not a developer, they have taken on this site to progress life in the city because “the market is broken in Limerick”.
He welcomed that the tender process for any works will be open to local companies.
Cllr Seamus Browne said this “is an investment that needs to be made” and said it’s a decision that has been “made in the best interests of Limerick”.
Labour councillor Joe Leddin added: “Picture the impact of over 700 workers coming out of that building”.
The gross floor area of the Hanging Gardens site is 114,000 sq ft, and the net usable area is 81,000 sq ft.
On the basis that 10-12 sq ft is required per person, once complete the development could facilitate some 750 office workers.
“That’s the magnitude of the work of the Hanging Gardens site – it’s enormous,” said senior planner Liam Conneally.
The council expects to have the main contractor in by October, and the works on the partially built site will take 18 months to complete.
After years of stagnation, plans are also progressing for the Opera Centre site in the city – albeit at a slow pace.
Of the seven interested operators for the mammoth site on Patrick Street and its environs, four have been shortlisted by the local authority.
It is estimated that the 2.8 hectare site, which will incorporate commercial enterprises and educational institutions, will cost in the region of €100m to develop.
The council, which owns the site, has been seeking a developer to work in tandem with them, after Belfast-based businessman Suneil Sharma sold off his interests in the site to a consortium of other investors whose visions for the so-called ‘shopping mecca’ collapsed in the crash.
The council is hoping to make their stage two tender documents available to the interested parties shortly.
“The process commenced in March 2015 and it has been full steam ahead. The process is sound, it’s being vetted and re-vetted,” said Mr Conneally.
The design team is due to be appointed in April, and some six weeks after that the tender documents will be submitted to the four.
One or two successful partners will then be selected by the council, which acquired the site for some €12m from Nama several years ago. The successful operator or operators will be appointed in the autumn at the latest.