The past few months has seen its share of bad news with property slowdowns and planned redundancies at Waterford Crystal but there are also many positives out there, according to the President of Waterford Chamber of Commerce, Andrew O’Neill.
Speaking to The Munster Express, Mr. O’Neill said the Waterford by-pass and other developments planned ahead would add to the city’s potential as a regional gateway. The airport runway extension to facilitate larger jet aircraft and motorway building pointed to a brighter future for Waterford, despite some views to the contrary.
Property investors had invested huge sums in the past few years in the order of €200m thereby giving a vote of confidence in Waterford’s future, he pointed out.
Some of this investment may be subject to planning issues but, overall, this was all very positive as the area’s potential was considered ripe for development. Areas specifically targeted at this stage include the Outer Ring Road, Tramore Road, Cork Road, Carrickphierish, Ballybeg and the North Wharf.
He is adamant that a large, 4-star hotel is needed for the city as well as a conference centre with full leisure centre.
It is likely that, within the next month, the Government will give the go ahead to the Viking Quarter under new Innovation Funding. This will be a designated Tourism area located around the Theatre Royal, Reginalds Tower, Blackfriars, Cathedral Square and Henrietta Street. This historical area will have a tourism focus, with some of the Square partially covered over in glass, where small artisan/ craft shops are projected to locate. Some of the funds allocated will be used to purchase additional property for refurbishment. St. Olaf’s Church and the Friary will also be part of it.
This plan has a three-year time cycle for the funds to be spent and, when complete, it will rejuvenate the city. Art galleries and another museum are also being considered. A Viking Museum of Ireland is planned as a result of the amazing findings on the bank of the Suir upstream at Woodstown which would help Waterford challenge Dublin as a top Viking destination.
The Viking Quarter, when completed, should be a great source of pride for the city, said Mr. O’Neill, who suggested the projected expenditure could be up to €60m over the three year period.
On the downside, as part of the programme, the Theatre Royal will have to close for a period. Its seating will be changed but the Victorian character will be preserved. Garter Lane will be there as a back up to the current theatre and it is planned to expand the use of it with an additional atrium style restaurant alongside the theatre. The theatre can also be used for conference style facilities.
The Ballymore/Waterford Crystal retail designer outlet plan that has backing from the city council should also boost Waterford, according to Mr. O’Neill. The plan is to locate designer shops alongside the crystal showrooms and invite international designers to locate in a designer outlet style village. Bunratty near Shannon in County Clare and Killarney both have designer outlets near a major tourist location and this may be done in a unique Waterford Crystal way.
Waterford Crystal’s annual 300,000 visitors is seen as a major draw. In the US, there are a number of Waterford Wedgwood shops in designer outlet villages around major cities such as New York, Boston and Chicago.
Nearby, Tesco have got the go ahead from Waterford City Council to develop a supermarket in Ballybeg as part of a neighbourhood complex which will boost that part of the city and bring the number of Tesco stores to Waterford to four in total.
On the industrial estate, Ivax’s acquisition by Teva from Israel sees renewed investment in that plant, heralding a bbbbrright future for this pharmaceutical factory. At Waterford Institute of Technology, the TSSG group has made great progress and is nationally renowned for its research work.
University Port Report
There may be some disappointment at the failure, so far, to award a university to Waterford following the publication of the Port report. As Chamber President, Mr. O’Neill said he could see some merit in the report and urged people to look at the positives. Work must continue on the campaign to clarify what more is needed and he noted the support from other TDS in the South East like Bobby Aylward in Kilkenny and Sean Connick and Paul Kehoe in Wexford. They would be writing to the Minister for Education, Mary Hanafin, on the matter, again stating the economic case for the South East and why Waterford Institute of Technology needed to be upgraded.