Isdell assembles advisory group for CHQ tourism project

Neville Isdell has assembled a 'blue ribbon' group including former Labour minister Ruairí Quinn to guide his Epic Ireland project

Neville Isdell, the Co Down*-born former Coca Cola chief executive who owns the CHQ in Dublin, has assembled a high-powered advisory group, which includes the former Labour minister Ruairí Quinn, for his Epic Ireland tourism project.

Mr Isdell, who bought the CHQ centre for €10 million in 2013, is investing a further €12 million to convert its vaults into Epic Ireland, an interactive, emigration-themed museum he hopes will attract up to 400,000 visitors annually.

Mr Isdell said yesterday that he has assembled a “blue ribbon” group to help shepherd the project to fruition, which includes the former education and finance minister. It is planned to open in May 2016.

Tourist attraction

Other members of the group include Paul Carty, managing director of the Guinness Storehouse; Fiona Ross, former director of the National Library; Catriona Crowe of the National Archives; tourism consultant Fiona O'Sullivan; Eneclann genealogist Brian Donovan; and Niall O'Dowd, the Irish Voice publisher.

“CHQ is not a shopping centre. It’s a centre with shops,” said Mr Isdell. “But you need something to really draw people in, an attraction. We looked at what there is in Dublin regarding tourist attractions, and surprisingly, the feedback is there wasn’t enough.”

Mr Isdell said that Epic Ireland’s targeted visitor numbers, which would catapult it onto sixth spot in the league table of paid tourist attractions in Ireland, is a “substantial number”.

“Obviously we have knocked on a lot of doors: the red bus people, tour operators, the port, the tourism authorities. We will need all of their help,” he said. Mr Isdell said the attraction will seek to develop links with cruise ship operators who dock vessels in Dublin.

The promoters of Epic Ireland, which will be developed and run by CHL Consulting, the company that operates the Titanic Belfast attraction, have also hired a London company to develop its interactive, software-based exhibits.

CHQ was developed by the now-defunct Dublin Docklands Development Authority as a retail centre, but it never took off. Since acquiring it, Mr Isdell said its daytime foot-fall numbers have increased "80 per cent".

The centre, which is operated by his stepbrother Mervyn Greene, is conducting a feasibility study to convert its front, river-facing area into a continental food market, based upon Cork's English Market.

Christmas market

Mr Isdell said he was also being advised by his “good friend” Fergal Quinn, the senator and Superquinn founder, on a Christmas market for 2015 at CHQ called I Believe. The project will have a charitable element, and will involve erecting a massive Christmas tree, similar to the one at the Rockefeller centre in New York.

*This story was edited on March 24th

Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is Business Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Caveat column