The battle for the hearts and minds of Limerick shoppers began in earnest back in 2011, when the local authority devised a scheme to entice new retailers into the city centre
Up until then, shopping in Limerick city centre was dying a very painful death, with the out-of-town Crescent Shopping Centre the first port of call for retailers and shoppers alike.
The then city council was pinning all its hopes on the stalled and controversial Opera Centre site.
In 2011 the local authority launched its retail incentive scheme (RIS), which provides for grant relief of up to 50% of the rates over a two- year period for businesses with higher order retail uses and businesses uses to occupy vacant sites.
The initial uptake was good with several new stores opening outlets in the city.
Vacancy rates — according to the CBRE commercial property advisory group —which were nearly 20% in 2011, have now fallen to 14%.
That figure is low compared to Limerick City and County Council’s own statistics which show the number of vacant buildings identified under the RIS in the core retail and business areas of the city centre standing at 21%.
However, an audit by Limerick Chamber of ground- floor premises along some of the main thoroughfares, paints a more positive picture, revealing vacancy levels of just 14%.
“There’s a great resurgence of activity within the city centre in Limerick; we would be confident with what’s happening with Dell and Regeneron will have a knock-on effect on the city,” said Orla Borthwick, deputy CEO of Limerick Chamber.
“Limerick Chamber conduct a street-by-street audit of ground-floor retail vacancy. Our current figure is 14% vacancy in the core city centre, Roches St to Ellen Street (excluding the Opera Centre site) and Henry St to Catherine St block.”
A spokesman for Limerick City and County Council said the city centre saw a number of retail openings during 2014, including Ecco Shoes, Costa Coffee, Tiger Stores, and Tech Star.
“Occupancy on key shopping streets such as Cruises St has reached 97%,” said the spokesman.
“Other streets are also experiencing a renewed sense of confidence.”
The threat of out-of-town shopping still remains however, particularly after the controversial €100m Horizon development on the Dublin Road was given the green light by An Bord Pleanala.
Limerick Chamber believes the massive retail development, which must be completed by August 2016, would have an “irrevocably negative” impact on the vitality of the city centre.
It’s also feared the development has the potential to derail the €250m Limerick 2030 Plan which has the potential to deliver 5,000 jobs.
“We welcome investment, it is great to have investment but the location might jeopardise a fully functioning city centre as a buoyant core for the region,” said Ms Borthwick.
Local Fine Gael councillor Daniel Butler told a council meeting that two unnamed retail businesses that had planned on opening in the city centre have withdrawn their interest because of the Horizon development.
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