Works starts on €17m office scheme in Limerick

Construction has begun on a 100,000sq ft office development in Limerick city centre — kickstarting the €500m Limerick 2030 economic plan.

Artist's impression of Hanging Gardens, Henry St

The plan unveiled four years ago sets out a strategy embracing three city-centre sites with the expectation of creating 5,000 jobs within five years. Work on the first location at Henry St, known as The Gardens International Office, which commenced yesterday, will involve an investment of €17.6m with a completion date in 2018.

The 2030 plan provides for the development of two other sites. One an area adjacent to Patrick St, known as The Opera Centre, will see the creation of a third-level campus with hundreds of students from the University of Limerick Institute of Technology and Mary Immaculate College moving into the city centre to study and live.

The Gardens office centre will have space for up to 750 workers and it will provide 150 jobs during construction. The Gardens’ project contract signed last week by JJ Rhatigan & Company builders and Limerick 2030 is the first special purpose vehicle of its kind in Ireland and was created by Limerick City and County Council to purchase and build strategic but unused key sites in the city.

Limerick 2030 chairman, Denis Brosnan, said The Gardens development will be the catalyst for a new era of growth for Limerick.

How Lower Henry St looks now.

He said: “This is the first in a wider programme that is going to transform Limerick into a dynamic living and working city capable of competing with the leading destinations in Europe for inward investment. Limerick’s time has come and timing is a key aspect of this given the capacity constraints and competitive issues that other cities who want this type of investment have.

“It’s also timely from a Brexit perspective as Limerick, with high-end projects like this, will be the best placed and most competitive English-speaking city in the EU for inward investment. We will have state-of-the-art space in a city that has been revitalised over the last three years or so but remains an extremely cost-effective location for operating international business in and from.”

Conn Murray, the chief executive of Limerick City and County Council, said Limerick has seen significant job creation and over €1.3bn invested over the last three years with the fastest growing employment rate in the country.

Mr Murray said: “The Gardens will now trigger a new wider programme of investment in infrastructure to bring that record period in Limerick to another level. Limerick is rejuvenated, it is attracting a lot of international attention and now we will be able to offer what FDI and indigenous investors mostly look for — inner city locations in a vibrant city where people can work and, indeed, live. This will be a landmark project for Limerick and in time we will look back on it as pivotal moment for the city and region.”

Artist’s impression of the Upper Henry St development

The Henry St site was part constructed during the boom but has remained a shell development since work ceased there several years ago. The five-floor development will be suitable for a range of uses.

It has been designed to a high spec, with a modern office feel dovetailing and entirely complementing the aesthetics of an architecturally significant building considered one of Limerick’s most unique.

Developed in 1808 by the Roches family, the old limestone-faced building with stunning red-bricked internal barrel vaults was a revolutionary project for its day, having been designed with a sophisticated heating and irrigation system to support roof-top hanging/vertical gardens with vegetation such as exotic fruits such as oranges, grapes and pineapples.

How Upper Henry St looks now.

Aim to ‘get fundamentals in place’ for city centre

One of the main goals of the Limerick 2030 plan is to ensure the city centre fulfils its economic potential by becoming a desirable place in which to do business.

The aim is to create a city centre setting capable of attracting new inward business investment and encourage new local enterprises by providing high-quality space and necessary business supports.

The plan states: “The city centre should be at the heart of the wider economic strategy for Limerick, developing its role as a place of creativity, culture and consumption. It is the ‘shop window’ for Limerick.

“Its role will not just be about providing the accommodation and infrastructure, but also providing the ‘quality of life’ factors so important to investors, employers and skilled workers.”

The plan notes: “Many of the ingredients and inherent attributes necessary to be successful are in place. The 2030 spatial plan seeks to take advantage of these.

At the signing of the €17.6m contract to develop the 100,000sq ft Gardens International office on Henry St, Limerick were, back row, Con Murray, CEO Limerick City and County Council; Cllr Seamus Browne; project architect Louise Cotter, Carr Cotter Naessens/ Denis Byrne Architects; Cllr Noel Gleeson; Cllr James Collins; Cllr Joe Pond; and front row, Pat Daly, director Limerick 2030; Denis Brosnan, chairman Limerick 2030; Ger Ronayne, regional director, JJ Rhatigan; James Godley, regional manager, JJ Rhatigan.

“There needs to be a range of specific projects and programmes, including new development and redevelopment projects. Further enhancements to the fabric of the city centre are also required: the renovation of the Georgian Quarter and other heritage assets; further public realm and transport improvements, and improved management and positioning. The renaissance of the City Centre requires the delivery of a series of inter-related interventions. The success of each intervention will depend upon the delivery of others.

“The desire to strengthen the city’s shopping offer will depend upon increasing economic development, attracting private sector investment, and enhanced culture and leisure programme, improvements to the physical environment, an enhance tourism offer. Equally an improved shopping offer is a pre-requisite to the successful attraction of new business, tourism.

“As a start Limerick needs to get the fundamentals in place around business, shopping and living opportunities. It needs a better infrastructure and public realm to make it a comfortable and appealing city centre. However, to achieve its full potential it needs to embrace a series of transformational projects completed by a programme of employment interventions addressing the shopping, business and residential markets, plus a programme of improvements to the public realm and city centre infrastructure.”

Plan will build on earlier successes

The Limerick 2030 plan stresses the importance of challenging false beliefs about Limerick.

In late 2000, when the vicious gang feud descended into a new level of depravity, gardaí and political leader feared the city was on the verge of anarchy.

However, successive ministers for justice gave Garda management full support to do all that was necessary to deal with the crisis.

At that time, one -third of all shootings in the State occurred on the streets of Limerick City.

Extra armed units, good police work and the support of the people of Limerick saw a huge and successful rescue mission which led to the jailing of most of the key gang leaders and the abating of major crime.

The recovery in the image of the city was helped by a number of factors. These included the huge positive media coverage of the Munster Rugby team in the Heineken Cup and the great impression visiting rugby fans got on their visits to Thomond Park.

The ongoing enlargement of facilities at the University of Limerick, Limerick Institute ot Technology and Mary Immaculate College resulted in an inward surge of young students from all over the country abroad.

The 2030 plan stresses the need to assert the strengths and attributes the city has to offer and urges that this must be done with a sense of purpose and conviction.

While the commencement of The Gardens centre is the much-heralded and long-awaited gamechanger, business people in the city have not been found wanting in standing up to the plate in investing in the city centre.

There has been a spectacular broadening in the variety of dining-out experiences and night-time entertainment.

JP McManus has begun work on a new world rugby experience which will be located inthe heart of the city on O’Connell St.

The historic area in King’s Island, which includes King John’s Castle and St Mary’s Cathedral, will be enhanced with the moving, later this year, of the courts to a new building near Limerick prison.

Visitors getting off tourist buses in the parking area at Merchant’s Quay can often be greeted by groups who gather at the entrance to the district court in a less than welcoming formation.

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