THE managing director of the company that runs Arthur's Quay Shopping Centre has said it is "absolutely critical" the €180m Project Opera scheme goes ahead.
Businessman Michael Tiernan, of Tiernan Properties, says Project Opera, a huge development which will see tower blocks, a public library and restaurants on land behind Patrick Street, is "the city's last chance to survive as we know it."
He made the comments following a presentation at the second day of An Bord Pleanala's oral hearing into the project, which has just broken for lunch.
In this, he said Limerick has, for the past 30 years seen "significant market failure" in terms of office and retail accommodation, highlighting the flight of many businesses to the suburbs.
"Between 2007 and 2012, the rent roll at Arthur's Quay Shopping Centre dropped 66% and didn't recover," he said.
Conversely, he pointed out that the Crescent Shopping Centre has doubled in size since the year 2000, with promoters of the Dooradoyle facility pointing out that it now boasts 60% of the fashion floorspace in Limerick.
"The difference between rental rates in the city and suburbs is so much more profound now than it was then '[in the 1980s] as the city has declined drastically, and with the recession and the amount of dereliction and the explosion of space in the suburbs, we really have the donut effect. It's difficult to attract new office or retailers."
The oral hearing heard a lengthy submission from An Taisce, which criticised the height and spec of the buildings.
However, Mr Tiernan said what is being proposed by Limerick Council now is better than what was in the offing when plans were there for the Patrick Street site to become a shopping centre.
"You have to praise Limerick Council because when they acquired the site, they undertook stabilisation works at a significant cost to stabilise the buildings so they are now in a position to restore them and conserve them into the future," he said.
"We can't just let the city keep falling down around us. We have to rebuilt, and we need investment to become a much more attractive city centre. The Opera site redevelopment is a kick start to that," Mr Tiernan concluded.
The oral hearing, before inspector Pauline Fitzpatrick, continues this afternoon.