The purchase of the Opera Centre site creates an exciting opportunity for the city and the region to create a visionary Master Plan. This will allow all possible stakeholders to contribute – from our new unitary local authority and the regeneration agencies to IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, Limerick Institute of Technology, University of Limerick, Mary Immaculate, Fáilte Ireland, Shannon Development, the Mid-West Regional Authority as well as ourselves in Limerick Chamber and many other business interests. Anything that is done with this site must be integrated into an overall vision and master plan for the city and the Limerick region and provide an eclectic mix made up of retail, commercial, office, residential, arts, sports and culture. We believe that the traditional view of retail being the only answer is not correct. We believe that retail, although it has a significant part to play, is not the only solution. We strongly believe that any development at this site must also complement and work with what is already in existence, not threaten future viability and this also applies to the out-of-town shopping centres soon to be an integral part of the extended Limerick city once the integration of the local authorities is completed. It must be a game changing unique and visionary development. An iconic symbol for a unified City and County working together for the betterment of the Limerick Region and Ireland’s third city with a population in excess of 100,000.
The Opera Centre together with the other vacant commercial buildings in the city have the potential to being the catalyst in revitalising Limerick and the region if it is used to drive a dynamic Master Plan to make Limerick City and the Limerick region a location of choice for Foreign Direct Investment, for tourism, for education, for shopping, for culture, for sports. This will involve creativity and courageous choices by the many organisations who have the resources and/or the power to contribute to creating a viable, sustainable and commercially successful Master Plan for Limerick. We need them all to incorporate what is best for Limerick City in their strategic thinking and in their own plans.
The list of potential developments that could be housed at this site is endless. The following is a list of 9 possible iconic initiatives for Limerick City which would drive further growth, employment and economic activity as well as complementing each other and which the Opera Centre could be used as the catalyst for:
- Develop a financial services employment hub for the City Centre. The footfall that this would create would have a multiplier effect on all other service demands across the city. The Chamber believe there is huge merit and opportunity for Limerick City Centre to become a national centre of excellence for tier 2 or Back office/Shared services for the IFSC (International Financial services Centre). This is one of the fastest growing employment sectors at the moment – the government aim to create 10,000 new jobs in the next 5 years. Can you imagine what 20% of those jobs would do, i.e. 2,000 jobs, if they were based in the heart of Limerick City centre It could totally transform our city centre and would complement the graduates coming from our institutes of education from the Business Schools in both LIT and UL. Limerick could twin with Dublin in bidding for IFSC opportunities with Dublin securing the HQ, Sales and Marketing and Limerick being the designated location of choice for the back-office/shared services activities.
- Develop an international accredited medical village/campus around the successful Barringtons Hospital. I can recall 3 attempts at building a private hospital in this region and all failed. However Barringtons Hospital has successfully evolved from a clinic when it was opened in 1994 to employing 100 persons directly at present, including 40 consultants. I understand there are ambitious expansion plans and a vision for the future to create a “Medical Village”, building substantial links with the Medical School at UL . Could the Opera Centre be the catalyst to support the development of this vision?
- Obtain national designation for Limerick to be the Irish capital of Arts, Sports and Culture in the same way as Glasgow was designated and restored as the centre for Art in all the UK. With LIT’s internationally acclaimed School of Art and Design, UL’s World Academy of Music, Limerick’s rich Georgian heritage and our successes in Sport, we need to work together to seek to obtain government status for Limerick as the Irish Capital for Art, Sports and Culture. The designation would not only bring young people and life back to the centre, it would also generate increased tourist numbers.
- Develop a cluster of sporting enterprises on the back of Limerick’s European City of Sport designation and it’s proud success in all sporting codes. Limerick has internationally recognised sporting facilities across all codes. Just as Cardiff capitalised and built on their City of Sport title with their International Sports Village, the opportunity exists for Limerick to become an internationally recognised centre for sporting excellence. The potential for Limerick to be recognised as an International Sports Services Centre, hosting R&D and administration clusters for sports companies is real and this centre for excellence could be housed in the Opera Centre or the Opera Centre could be used as a catalyst to support this plan.
- Develop a recreational focal point. The site at the Opera Centre could house Cinemas/ Theatre/ Opera House/ Library/ Museum and become not just a day-time attraction but a reason for people to congregate and come to the city at night-time.
- Expand the retail offering that will complement existing retailers. A current difficulty in attracting large multi-nationals retailers can be that there is limited large footprints currently available in the city. This site/ development could be tailor designed to suit some of these large retailers and we should still look to attracting a “big ticket” international retail anchor to the city centre.
- Develop a unique retail shopping experience for Limerick if the city centre retailing was focused on a high number of quality niche retailers complemented with the creation of start-up businesses from a newly created enterprise and incubation centre from the Limerick School of Art and Design? These would be focused on new businesses in the fashion, design and creative arts areas thus contributing to a unique “Creative Culture” and shopping experience unique to Ireland.
- Perhaps the space could be used as an office design that could incorporate a new Unitary Limerick Authority Hall. In a true joined-up thinking fashion, if our enterprise agencies successfully identified suitable alternative foreign direct investment or indigenous companies to move into the existing city and county authority buildings, thus making the development of a new building to house the unified authority cost neutral.
- Invite LIT and UL to locate a significant portion of their combined student population of 20,000 in the city centre. Limerick is a university city, with a student population in excess of 20,000. LIT’s School of Art and Design with its 700+ students as well as Mary Immaculate College and it’s 3,000 students currently reside within the City Centre. However the city centre does not reflect the full scale of our student population and the opportunity exists to bring more educational facilities into the city centre.
Limerick Chamber believes that whatever is developed at the site, it must be a catalyst for economic and social re-growth and revitalisation not just in the city but for the entire region; leading the region as an iconic visionary development into the future. A mixed-use development which will provide an initial injection of life back into the city and/or act as a catalyst for supporting Limerick’s attractiveness as a location of choice for foreign direct investment as well as national designation in Arts, Sports and Culture, but one that will be of long-term benefit and that will stand the test of time. Whatever happens on this site, it must be part of a larger integrated master plan for the city and the region, reiterating and re-creating it as a focal point leading regional economic growth and employment for current and future generations.