€60m conference centre plan rejected


A PROPOSED €60 million conference centre for the midwest has been ruled out by Minister for Tourism Martin Cullen after an independent report questioned its economic benefit.

The report by economic consultants Indecon International, which has been published by Fáilte Ireland, concluded that the benefits of the centre “would be marginal at best”.

The decision not to proceed with the centre is a further blow to the midwest, following the closure last week of one of the region’s best-known hotels, the Castletroy Park Hotel in Limerick, with the loss of 130 jobs.

The study said the level of investment required for the conference centre would not be the best use of resources for the development of tourism in the region.

Other potential projects could represent “better value for money in economic terms,” the consultants found.

Mr Cullen said: “Having examined the report, I agree with its findings.”

The feasibility study was commissioned arising from a commitment in the programme for government in 2007.

It considered three possible locations for a conference centre – all in the Limerick area – and concluded that the centre could attract 6,955 additional tourists to the midwest every year.

In nine separate cost/benefit analysis scenarios, the report found that only three returned a positive net present value for the proposed project.

It evaluated the region’s strengths and weaknesses and stated that “the reliance on budget airlines as principal carriers to Shannon Airport is a disadvantage in terms of attracting corporate tourism and dominance by one airline may constrain new route development with other airlines”.

Limerick Chamber of Commerce chief executive Maria Kelly expressed disappointment with the Minister’s decision and the report’s conclusions.

The chamber has supported the idea of a conference centre for a number of years and she said: “The Limerick–Shannon area is perfectly situated as the mid-point along the Atlantic coast for a conference centre and it also has a large hotel infrastructure to serve.

“The landscape has changed since the report was complete with the return of the ShannonHeathrow service, which gives Shannon access to two international hubs, while the customs and borders protection facility for Shannon has been announced.”

She also argued there was a need for “a little joined-up thinking” in light of those recent developments and called for the proposal to be “looked at again”.

Clare TD Joe Carey (FG) said yesterday: “If we are to take the stated aim of balanced regional development to its natural conclusion, then a state of the art conference facility for the midwest should form part of that strategy.”