THE FUTURE OPERA SITE PHOTOGRAPHED 2019 – THE FORMER CAHILL MAY ROBERTS SITE
The Cahill May Roberts building at Bank Place has been out of use for more than 20 years, when the pharmaceutical company closed its distribution centre here. However, Limerick City and County Council has agreed a short term lease to Corbally businessman Ray O’Halloran to set up the centre, to be known as the Limerick City Build.
Using a model set up in Glasgow, where deprived youths are offered training in the trades, the building will be home to around 150 youngsters, the social entrepreneur said. Two of the three floors served as a training centre, while the bottom floor acted as a business incubation centre, with room for 26 different start-up firms. The businesses were centred around carpentry, tiling, plumbing, cabinet making and other trades, and the proviso for the entrepreneurs using the space is that they employ some of the youths on training programmes in the upper parts of the complex.
In 2019 I was invited to visit a workshop down a lane behind Limerick City Library on and behind the former Cahill May Roberts Building. The manager that I met was engaged in instructing students in boat building but the boats were made of metal rather than wood.
The light was not good and I did not have a suitable lens so it was agreed that I could visit again when I returned to Limerick in March 2020 but that did not happen because of Covid-19. It was mentioned that I should not be surprised if the buildings were not there in 2020 as the site was scheduled to be redeveloped.
When I visited in September 2021 the “Opera Site” project had gone ahead and much of what been there in 2019 had been fully or partly demolished. My understanding is that the enabling work and demolition restarted in May . The six-year project is the biggest of its kind undertaken in Limerick and the largest commercial property programme outside Dublin. The construction programme will see up to five hundred people employed on the site.
The ‘Opera Site’ is located at the northern end of Limerick’s Georgian Quarter and measures c. 1.8 hectares (4.5 acres).
Project Opera proposes the redevelopment of an existing city block located on the south side of the River Abbey at the confluence with the River Shannon, adjacent to the Hunt Museum and east of Arthur’s Quay Shopping Centre. The site is bounded by Rutland Street and Patrick Street to the west, Ellen Street to the south, Michael Street to the east and Bank Place to the north.
There are two buildings within the site included on the Record of Protected Structures. The Town Hall, Rutland Street, was built in 1805 and is currently vacant and in a state of serious disrepair. The Granary, Michael Street, is one of the earliest known multiple storey warehouses to be built in Limerick, dating from the late 1700s.
The interior was comprehensively redeveloped in the 1980s, with new offices subject to modernisation in 2015. A further eight buildings on the site are included on the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (NIAH). A number of these are vacant and in various stages of dereliction, despite a significant amount of remedial works undertaken by the Council in recent years to preserve their structural stability and architectural integrity.
The site is also host to the former Cahill May Roberts Building, fronting Bank Place, some existing and unused warehousing/workspace buildings at Bogue’s Yard and Watch House Lane. The southeast corner of the site currently includes a surface car park with approximately 100 No. spaces.
It is proposed to develop The ‘Opera Site’, as a mixed use scheme of primarily office, supported by a range of retail & non-retail services, cafes/restaurants, licenced premises, apart-hotel, civic/cultural uses (including a City Library in the existing Town Hall), residential and open space.
Existing heritage/protected buildings will be re-furbished and all the newer twentieth century buildings and later additions to existing heritage structures will be demolished. This includes the refurbishment of No. 9 Ellen St. to provide for a bar/restaurant/ café, refurbishment of the existing City Hall to provide for a new City Library and refurbishment of 12 No. Georgian terraced houses at Ellen Street, Patrick Street and Rutland Street. The existing Granary Building will be retained in office/restaurant/ licenced premises uses.
The new build elements proposed for the scheme includes the following:
• A new office building on the corner of Michaels Street which will provide for retail, café/bar/restaurant at the ground floor.
• An apart-hotel on the corner of Patrick Street and Ellen Street.
• A new City Library in the existing Town Hall with a café/restaurant provided in the basement. Office space will be provided to the rear in a new building.
• A new ‘landmark’ office building is proposed fronting onto Bank Place.
• Parking will be provided for the entire project in a new underground car park.
• A significant new public square in the form of a plaza is proposed at the centre of the site. This will provide for a new pedestrian east-west link between Michael Street and Patrick Street. A new north-south pedestrian link will be provided which will link an enhanced public space on Bank Place with the new civic plaza.