Work on a €2.5m interpretive centre in the middle of Cork Harbour could get under way as early as September and be completed in time for the start of the 2016 tourist season.
County engineer David Keane has taken personal charge of the project on Spike Island and is bullish about its potential to attract droves of tourists, not just to the island but the harbour in general.
The €2.5m in funding is coming from Fáilte Ireland, which recognises the major potential that the beauty and history the island has to offer.
Mr Keane said that part of Block B would be refurbished for the interpretive and visitor centre.
In addition, the council will build new access walkways around the island, as well as landscaping works in the parade ground areas and installing a sewerage treatment plant.
A pontoon is already in place and the council is to erect a shelter on it for people waiting to get a ferry back to Cobh.
Mr Keane said the interpretive centre would chart the history of the island and house a lot of military memorabilia.
“We are also planning to create an app with the story of Spike Island on it which will guide visitors around the island,” he said.
“We also hope to have guides on it who will be dressed in period costume.”
The council is preparing to assess contractors for the work on the 104-acre site and have set up a new company, Spike Island Development Company, to run the whole project.
“Last year we had 26,000 people visit the island,” said Mr Keane. “When the interpretive centre is up and running we hope to raise that to more than 70,000.”
The long-term goal is to make a major tourist attraction of Spike Island and this project is the first phase of that.
Spike Island was first inhabited by monks in the 7th century. It has had some 400 years of military occupation and was a penal colony in Cromwellian times, when mainly woman and children were transported as slaves to the Caribbean.
In more modern times, the island also housed a prison.
CHL Consulting Company and Scott Tallon Walker Architects Consortium have produced a detailed business plan and final draft masterplan for the Spike Island project.
They maintain that up to €35m annually and around 190 jobs could be generated from Cork County Council’s plan to transform Spike Island.
They believe that when it is completed, the project could attract up to 300,000 visitors to Cork Harbour every year.
The planners also want to see a large aquarium and a centre on emigration built on the site.
While the council will lead the development project, other stakeholders involved in the overall project include the Port of Cork, University College Cork, Fáilte Ireland, the National Maritime College of Ireland, and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food.
In the long term, the island may be accessed by ferries running from a cluster of new marinas in the harbour, and from Cork City, Midleton, and Trabolgan. It is also envisaged that shops and restaurants will be built on the island in the coming years.
However, this will all be dependent on funding.
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