China-Europe trade hub seeks investors
The promoter of the planned China-Europe trade hub in Athlone is seeking new investors amid reports that the €175 million project has stalled.
Last May, An Bord Pleanála gave permission for the first phase of the proposed China-Europe trading hub at Creggan, just outside Athlone in Co Westmeath.
Promoted by Athlone Business Park Ltd and backed by a number of Chinese investors, the complex was meant to provide a showcase for Chinese manufacturers to show their wares to European customers.
It emerged yesterday that Athlone Business Park Ltd has recruited advisory firm Deloitte to aid in bringing new investors to the project, which has a projected cost of €175 million.
The promoters are also likely to broaden its remit to include manufacturers from other far eastern countries as well as China.
It is not clear if the development’s original Chinese supporters are still involved.
One source said yesterday that the “personalities may have changed” since the plan was originally devised in 2008.
A number of others said that the promoters are struggling to attract investment.
The original Chinese backers were led by three un-named individuals who visited Athlone in 2009 and met representatives of various local organisations.
One was from Hong Kong, another was a successful businessman from Northern Ireland’s Chinese community, and the third was based in Britain.
John Tiernan, the principal figure in Athlone Business Park Ltd, refused to comment yesterday.
“We are continuing to work on this project,” he said, adding that the organisation would make a statement when it had “something positive” to say. Deloitte did not comment.
Dubbed “Shanghai on the Shannon”, the China-Europe hub would be 14 times the size of the combined Liffey Valley and Blanchardstown shopping centres if it were completed.
It is privately backed and no State agency is involved in supporting the scheme.
The first phase includes 102,000sq m of exhibition space, consisting of three large showrooms and nine smaller ones, and underground parking for 1,300 cars.
Plans for the completed centre provide for two hotels, a conference centre, railway station and other facilities.
Estimates of the number of visitors it could attract vary between 20,000 and 35,000. Construction would create about 1,500 jobs.
The centre’s promoters have been working on the plan for at least four years. Members of the last government, including the then taoiseach, Brian Cowen, met with its Chinese backers when details of the plan became public in 2010.