Limerick: Why the city’s do-it-yourself comeback story is just getting started

Limerick Twenty Thirty was a response to the crisis of the late noughties – but its evolution continues, as it seeks partners for its next innovative step

David Conway, chief executive of Limerick Twenty Thirty: ‘We’re really only hitting our momentum now and it’s very exciting.’ Picture: Arthur Ellis

If Limerick’s recovery from the economic crisis of the late noughties was the urban comeback story of the past decade, David Conway gives you a real sense that the pages have only really started to turn.

“We’ve come a long way in a short few years, but the journey ahead is even more exciting. We’re really only hitting our momentum now and it’s very exciting,” said the chief executive of Limerick Twenty Thirty – the first special-purpose vehicle of its kind in the country.

The foresight of Limerick City and County Council – led by its then chief executive Conn Murray and founding board chairman Denis Brosnan of Kerry Group fame – Limerick Twenty Thirty was a solution-focused response to the absence of developer interest in the city.

Rather than wait for one to come in and kick-start the recovery, they created it themselves.

“The city had taken a bad beating in the recession. Not alone was it hammered by the economic crash, but it had a double whammy from the loss of 1,900 jobs at Dell in 2009,” Conway said.

“The two created the perfect storm and suddenly the bright new future, with huge plans for redeveloping major sites in the city, came tumbling down.

“Significant swathes of property, the biggest example being the four-acre Opera Site, had been bought up but overnight, the investment disappeared. Another city centre site on Henry Street, which is the now Gardens International, was half built and work just stopped.

“It was a crisis, but you need courage and smarts in a crisis. Limerick had both and Limerick Twenty Thirty was what came out of it.”

It’s been a more than successful outcome so far. Established in 2016 with a target of developing 1.4 million sq ft of prime real-estate property in Limerick, it has not just built a team and developed out a plan for no less than six projects, but has already completed and let almost half a million sq ft of property.

It has commenced the 550,000 sq ft Opera Site and is moving on other key projects such as the ten-acre Cleeves Riverside Quarter and the 850-residential-unit Mungret Park.

Innovation has been the byword for Limerick Twenty Thirty and is something Conway talks much of. It’s written into its vision – a desire to be an international exemplar for delivering the most innovative region.

It is being played out through all its projects, with highly innovative architectural designs, as evidenced by the multi-award-winning Gardens International project on Henry Street.

The innovation piece is not just about creating attractive working and living spaces, it’s also with an eye to the future. Entire projects are being built to international standards such as LEED Gold, WELL Cert and Wired Score, embracing the highest sustainability, health and safety and technology standards.

“Being innovative is a core belief for us. When I came on board Limerick Twenty Thirty, the organisation was really only developing its structures at that stage but what I loved about it was the desire to be new, to be something different and bring real transformation.

Looking for partnerships

“In many respects, it’s a ‘build it and people will come’ approach; world-class in quality, but the most cost-effective you can get at that high standard. A premium product for significantly less than what it costs elsewhere.”

Limerick Twenty Thirty is evolving all the time and today is managing projects for the local authority as well, such as the Living Georgian Housing Project, two properties that will be a showcase in how contemporary residential living can be achieved in Limerick’s historic Georgian quarter.

It is now looking to partner with private developments that are in the greater interest of the wider Limerick evolution.

“We are now in a situation where we are looking for partners, other developers and national agencies to develop transformational sites in the city. The great thing about the work done so far is that we have put reputation in the Limerick Twenty Thirty bank,” Conway said.

“No one will come near you until you have shown that you are capable on your side, which we’ve done with Gardens International and Troy Studios and are currently doing with the Cleeves and Opera sites. That builds trust.”

Undoubtedly, though, the most anticipated project is the Opera Site. For so long a motif for the economic crash in Limerick, this 3.7-acre site in the heart of Limerick City has been in the offing since the early noughties.

It’s only since Limerick City and County Council acquired the property and tasked Limerick Twenty Thirty to finally bring it to life, that its future was secured.

Planning for the project was received last year and enabling and demolition works on the site have now commenced, with building to begin once they are completed.

The project comes complete with the 14-storey Tower Block & Library, which will give Limerick city centre a whole new aspect as it overlooks the River Shannon and across the Georgian city.

The site will come complete with a mix of offices and apartments, a library, aparthotel, retail and restaurants with a 3,000 sq m public plaza.

When completed, the project will have the capacity to employ 3,000 people and to an industry standard of LEED (Leader in Economic Development) gold.

Covid halted momentum on the construction side, but Limerick Twenty Thirty used the time wisely, advancing planning on other projects, so Conway is not overly concerned about the delay. The time was used productively. He is, however, confident about the future.

“If you can say to an FDI company that is looking for a base in Ireland that we will give you Grade A space, designed and built to the best international standards, that you will get it perhaps for half the cost of another city and in an area with the affordable quality of life that people want, then it’s a compelling proposition,” he said.

“We are always looking at other sites and other opportunities. We want other people such as site owners and/or investors to join us on that pathway to develop Limerick.

“The vision is now being realised and the buildings speak for themselves. Our capital portfolio is €1 billion. We have a reputation for international standard developments and are helping to transform Limerick. As a Limerick man, I’m just really proud of the project.’’

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