There could be a green light for the Opera Centre soon, says Denis Brosnan, chairman of the Limerick Economic Forum
BUSINESSMAN Denis Brosnan, the former chief executive of the Kerry Group, said he hopes that construction on the €150m Opera Centre site will start next year – if the plans receive the green light from councillors in September.
The multi-millionaire from Croom, who has been leading the development of the Opera Centre site for some two years as chairman of the Limerick Economic Forum, said that inspite of the chequered history of the site, there should be no doubt that the development will go ahead.
“Of course, of course,” he told the Limerick Leader this week, when asked if it will ever be built. “It's not going to stay empty for too much longer. None of the sites [acquired by the council] have been sitting there and not worked on. My view is two years of work has gone into the Opera Centre,” he said.
Mr Brosnan would not be drawn on how the development would be funded, but intimated that the Limerick Economic Forum, which is driving this development and others in the city, has a number of plans to progress it financially.
“I know all the nuts and bolts. Really, it’s a case if the elected members say 'Get on and get it done', and in that case, you will see people at work on site next year. Once they say go, it's a whole different world. But I or others don't want to pre-empt what decisions they are going to make,” he said.
“The Opera Centre will cost €120m to €150m; the Hanging Gardens is a small site compared to that, and there's a lot of work that goes on behind the scene to get it funded,” he said.
While the public’s hopes have been pinned on having a major Marks & Spencer outlet in the Opera site, amongst other retail units, Mr Brosnan believes that focus will lie elsewhere in the city.
“I don't think it [the Opera Centre] should be the retail centre for Limerick. The retail centre is more naturally at Arthur's Quay - at least that's the view of the economic forum.”
He added that the conservation works involved in the site should also not be under-estimated. Limerick City and County Council acquired the site fronting onto Patrick Street and Ellen Street for €12.5m from Nama and have been involved with a number of stakeholders since regarding its development. Ms Brosnan, chair of the Limerick Economic Forum, said the development could receive a further push after their next meeting, which will be held in private, in September, and it will then go before the full council.
Also on the forum is Pat Daly, director of the economic development unit at Limerick City and County Council, and John Moran, the former secretary general of the Department of Finance.
Mr Brosnan said "how it progresses will every much depend on the executive team", who will have to report back to the council, "and take their instructions from the elected members".
Following an open tender process, a special purpose vehicle set up by the council - under the name Aecom - has been signed off and is to carry out the works.
Of the seven interested operators for the mammoth site on Patrick Street and its environs, four were shortlisted by the local authority this March.
The council has also gone out to tender for the Hanging Gardens development on Henry Street, which was partially built by developer Robert Butler during the boom.