Plans have been unveiled for a new €7.5 million national science and visitor centre in the midlands.
The purpose-built facility, which is to be located on the site of a decommissioned RTÉ radio transmitter station in Athlone, will have the capacity to welcome up to 100,000 visitors a year.
Fáilte Ireland has given its support to the proposed Marconi Centre by providing €200,000 funding under its grants scheme for large tourism projects.
Other backers of the project include IDA Ireland, RTÉ and the Swedish IT company Ericsson and its former country manager Traolach Collins, who is now managing director at technology and services group Actavo.
Construction is expected to commence in 2020. The facility is to have a strong focus on science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem)-related topics. The site will also include a TV and radio studio for students to record “off-air” segments alongside the historic Marconi radio transmitter hall.
In addition, RTÉ has committed to making large sections of its digital archive exclusively available and plans a training and education initiative at the centre.
Eamon de Valera officially opened what was the first high power transmitting station in the Republic in February 1933. The original 100kw transmitter used by the national broadcaster until the mid-1970s is intact on site and is the only one of its kind in Europe developed by Marconi.
Discussions over what to do with the 10-acre site have been ongoing ever since the facility closed in the early 1990s.
The new Marconi project is led by accountant Alan Shaw, a former director with accountancy firm RBK. Former Roscommon county manager John Tiernan is also involved in the initiative, as is RTÉ's midlands correspondent Ciarán Mullooly.
“It is really about combining the heritage of the old wireless theme at the fabulous Marconi transmitter hall with the new wireless initiatives of tomorrow’s world in a new future lab science centre,” said Mr Mullooly
Minister for Finance Paschal Donohue has reportedly received briefings on the project and indicated strong support for the development of a purpose-built science centre for students.
“This project represents an important part of Ireland’s rich heritage and history. We now need to unlock the doors and keep it a secret no more,” said Mr Shaw.