There can be no doubt that Project Limerick has finally reached a point where the future of Limerick economic development is seeing action.
Unexpectedly early recently, An Bord Pleanala gave the green light to Kirkland Development’s plans to develop a significant mixed-use project on our city’s quays. The project which is expected to be on site in early 2018 will create 150,000 square feet of office space allowing for the accommodation of approximately 600 jobs within the development.
Around the corner on Henry Street workers are on site as the Gardens International development moves towards completion. This project has the potential to accommodate up to 700 jobs.
Then we received the news that the Limerick Twenty Thirty DAC are ready to submit plans for the long-awaited Opera project on Patrick St.
The same week we saw the #liveablelimerick campaign energise many Limerick citizens to engage on the O’Connell St revitalisation project plans. The local authority received over 200 submissions from the public on the plans, a real exercise in civic engagement. What happens next will be interesting.
After years of talking we are Limerick’s economic development plans are finally seeing results. Summer is normally a quiet period for big news but the last few weeks have seen some of the most significant announcements seen in the city for years.
The Opera project news was the first major announcement to be made by David Conway, the recently appointed CEO of Limerick Twenty Thirty.
So, who is Conway and what will his new role in Limerick entail?
Before arriving back to Limerick Conway acted as Chief Executive Officer of the National Sports Campus Development Authority. He played a key role in developing the Abbotstown project since 2001.
Conway graduated as a Physical Education teacher from the University of Limerick and subsequently played his part in developing the world-renowned facilities on the University of Limerick campus.
Conway is a qualified MBA graduate and project manager. His role as CEO of Limerick Twenty Thirty will see him head up the first, local authority wholly-owned special purpose vehicle created in Ireland to deliver a city and countywide programme of investment.
Conway’s role will mean he heads up a company tasked with delivering over €500m worth of transformational investment infrastructure across Limerick, focussing on strategic sites capable of record inward investment and jobs. He takes on the mantle at a good time.
Two major inner city projects controlled by Limerick Twenty Thirty have now made huge progress. The International Gardens project on Henry St is on site with a completion date for late 2018. Should plans for Project Opera be given the go ahead later this year we will see the beginning of the creation of what is expected to be a game changer for our city.
Despite the major step forward, we cannot be blind to the many challenges faced in Limerick in terms of its socio-economic breakdown, particularly within the core city areas. However, we must also recognise that with positive economic development comes benefits and opportunities for every individual we call home.
Ignoring the Opera development (this will take a little longer to complete) let’s now focus on both the International Gardens and Kirkland’s project. Kirkland’s proposals will also see 45 luxury apartments created within a towering 15-storey high building. There is no residential accommodation provided for within International Gardens.
Does any see the elephant in the room? Could it be that we are forgetting a key issue? Come 6pm in Limerick our city sees an exodus of single vehicle cars as workers or shoppers head for the leafy green suburban lands.
All going well we should see the city quays project and Gardens International reaching completion within a few months of each other.
1,300 new city centre jobs. How wonderful will that be?
Let’s now consider the 45 new apartments provided on the city quays. If each apartment was to become home to an average of 2 residents then we are adding 90 people to urban population.
A quick look at planning applications shows us that there are zero other significant developments coming down the track in terms of the provision of urban living accommodation.
The math therefore tells us that in approximately two and a half years Limerick city will need to provide homes to a minimum of 1,210 employees.
It must be noted that it is not necessarily the role of the local authority to be ‘developers’ per say. However, the lack of any aspect of residential in a development the size of the Project Opera is odd.
Could it be that another leafy suburban model – this time on the lands around Mungret – are being earmarked to cater for such an influx of potential city centre workers?
In other words, are we doing exactly what we have done in the past – creating another out of town development where hundreds of residents commute in and out by car?
I hope I am wrong in this basic, uneducated reading of what is happening in Limerick. I hope the planners and the local authority have a secret residential trump card up their sleeves.
If I am right, however, we are repeating the past. We must be concerned that we are not putting enough focus on the provision of quality, well managed residential additions in our urban centre.
The end result runs the risk of completing the final segment of the bitter doughnut for which Limerick has become so well know over recent decades.
When UK-based consultants GVA delivered our city the Limerick 2030 Economic and Spatial Plan in June 2013 there was much fanfare. Since then the fanfare slowly turned into frustration. We deeply wanted to see action. We started to think the talk was hot air.
What has come to pass over recent weeks is a clear message to all of us that the Limerick Twenty Thirty project means business. Not only that, it is now ready to deliver.
Under the stewardship of Denis Brosnan and with David Conway as CEO I believe Limerick has reached a new milestone in the history of its urban economic development.
We must trust that there is now a solid team in place who are focused on ensuring all aspects of Limerick’s future are planned and thought through – economic development, job creation, cultural investment, living, retail, hospitality and quality of life.
For these reasons I think now is the time to get behind the Limerick Twenty Thirty project. Now is the time to support Conway, Brosnan and their team. Now is the time to tell anyone you meet that Limerick is a place on the up; a place to consider investing and a place to consider home.