After receiving 12 expressions of interest about the redevelopment of the Dyke Road carpark and the Black Box, Galway City Council has conceded the project is too ambitious to go it alone, putting the kybosh on hopes of replacing the theatre by 2020.
Instead, the Council will use the €750,000 funds saved over three years for its redevelopment to appoint consultants to weigh up all options for the four-acre site and to draw up a definitive specification for the cultural building that will replace the Black Box – that may or may not move away from the Dyke Road.
The €3.5 million funding approved by the Northern and Western Regional Assembly for the project will now be split evenly between two other flagship developments – the overhaul of the pedestrianised zone in the city and the creation of a children’s creative hub at Lenaboy Castle at Taylor’s Hill, formerly St Anne’s Children Home being donated by the Sisters of Mercy.
“Direction is more important than speed. We’d like to go out to procurement on this and get the preparatory work done as soon as possible,” enthused Mark O’Donnell, Senior Executive Officer for Economic Development and Capital Projects at Galway City Council.
Councillor Peter Keane (FF) said the report was full of buzz words but very little substance, noting there was just three-quarters of a million in the coffers to develop what could be a €100m project.
He stated that he was “really very disappointed by the lack of progress on it”.
“This will never be developed if we stay going on this path. It’s 14 months in the offing in what was to have been a cultural space. If you believe the Galway City Tribune, it’s going to be student accommodation.”
This prompted City Chief Executive Brendan McGrath to reply: “That’s the last thing it will be.” He later clarified that any large mixed development would have a 20% residential component according to the local authority’s own guidelines, but that could be hotel accommodation.
He said the complexity of the development – which would entail parking, possibly retail, commercial offices and some housing built over eight storeys – meant that “definitely, it won’t be developed by Galway City Council on its own”. A joint venture was currently emerging as the best route.
Mr McGrath suggested the deal may involve a land or building swap with developers or State bodies, noting the huge amount of interest shown in the site since news of the plan emerged in the 2020 bid book.
“It’s not about delaying or kicking the can down the road. The 12 or so submissions we received all proposed differing things, so this will look at the best mix and ultimately what best benefits the city first and City Council second,” he insisted.
“Liverpool only had their final project finished last year following the 2008 designation.”
This prompted councillors to throw up a long list of buildings which could be acquired for both the municipal library and a cultural centre – among them County Hall, the Courthouse, an ESB site, NUIG properties on Nuns Island.
Independent Cllr Donal Lyons formally proposed the five recommendations, including the appointment of a multidisciplinary team of consultants to lead it.