Opera sets the tone for next phase of city regeneration

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FOLLOWING last week’s submission of a planning application for the Opera Site with a potential spin-off of 3,000 new jobs, Limerick councillors have approved loans of more than €6 million to move on to the next phase of the city’s regeneration.

The loans will be made available to Limerick Twenty Thirty DAC to complete the fit-out of the recently opened Gardens International and to buy the Cleeves site and the former Salesian Convent in Fernbank.

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€4.4 million is being set aside for the purchase of the former convent and the  Cleeves site which is currently owned by the local authority itself. Limerick Twenty Thirty will use the remaining €1.77 million to fit out the remaining first and second floors of Gardens International on Henry Street.

The loans were approved at a meeting of Limerick City and County Council this week.

Councillors were told by Finance Director John O’Loughlin that Limerick Twenty Thirty is not in a position to finance the purchase of Cleeves and the convent.

“They are seeking an interest only loan until there is a return on the investments,” he explained.

Independent county councillor Richard O’Donoghue asked if the council “will be getting progress reports and how often?

“We should be given reports rather than having to read about it in the press,” he said.

Mr O’Loughlin said that regular reports and updates would be a feature of the Cleeves/Salesian project and that the local authority will receive commercial rates from any business that sets up there.

Limerick Twenty Thirty DAC, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Limerick City and County Council, submitted the planning application for the Opera Site to the council on Friday last.

The application is for the largest inner-city commercial development outside of the capital and will include an apart-hotel, living accommodation, retail space, a new public library, a cafe, bar and restaurant, offices and parking.

The development will require the demolition of all twentieth century buildings on the site but key protected buildings, including the former Town Hall will refurbished as part of the plan .

Limerick Twenty Thirty DAC has been active over the last two and half years developing the Gardens International project on Henry Street, which opened last week, as well as master-planning the 250 unit first phase of the Mungret Park housing development.

The 1.62 hectare Opera Site is the largest project in the programme and will be developed over a six year period at a total cost of around €180 million. It will provide workspace for up to 3,000 people across a 450,000 sq ft development.

It is fully funded through commitments from the European Investment Bank and the Council of Europe Development Bank.

The site was acquired by the then Limerick City Council in 2011 after a previous plan to develop it collapsed during the crash.

Mayor James Collins said that the Opera Site was the most important project in the context of the wider regeneration of Limerick.

“We had the opening of Gardens International last week and that set a new standard in terms of office space for Limerick.  Opera is six times the size and will be the single most transformational project this decade in any Irish city.”

Council chief executive Conn Murray said that getting the Opera Site to this key stage was a big moment for Limerick and the region.

“We now see what this fantastic project will comprise and how it will change our city and the region for the good. The team at Limerick Twenty Thirty has worked tirelessly and meticulously to pull this mammoth planning application together and justifiably so.”

“Opera will be the biggest economic catalyst for our city in decades and the knock-on benefit of this across all strands of our society will be enormous.  We now look forward to completing the planning process and moving on to developing this game-changing development for our city and region,” Mr Murray declared.