Developing the Market Quarter (1)

There is a new vibrancy in Limerick City centre. The streets are busier, new bars and restaurants are opening, people are even back swimming in the river. We are at point in Limerick where we can again start planning and building a city centre around what is the very best of Limerick life. A city isn’t any one experience, at their best they are a fabric of integrated spaces between commercial spaces, recreational spaces, cultural amenities and residential areas. Limerick has the raw materials and the potential to offer all of these to a high standard but it will always struggle to do so until proper plans are put in place to develop each part of the above fabric.  The cultural core of the city could be constructed around the Milk Market, the so-called Market quarter.

The Milk Market was redeveloped and reopened to the public in June 2010. Since then it has taken its place as one of the premier markets in the country, it has won architectural awards, it has hosted concerts and operas and slowly but surely given rise to the idea of a Market Quarter in Limerick. Through all these events, the Milk Market is one of the most successful additions to Limerick’s social fabric and the Market Quarter is the main area of night life in the city.

The council should grasp the opportunity to commission a master plan for the Market Quarter. For all the strength of the Milk Market and the nightlife in the Market Quarter, we need to focus on what the Milk Market could be if further amenities could be provided. We need to learn from what works elsewhere, and what we can develop as unique to Limerick. Taking the Market quarter to be the area bounded by the following streets, Patrick’s Street, Cruises street, Denmark street, Ellen Street, Carr Street, Robert Street, Mungret Street, High and John streets it has the potential to be the core of Limerick’s city centre. The Milk Market has the capacity to be the beating heart of Limerick’s revival, but only if a plan is made and followed. When we think of what we want the city to be, how do we get there from here? How do we design a place that isn’t just the heart of Limerick city but also at the heart of the Midwest of Ireland? If we were to design such a place, what facilities would it have? If not the Market Quarter, where should we provide spaces for our entire community to come together? How should the Opera Centre integrate into the Market Quarter?

The Market Quarter is a ten minute walk from King John’s castle, it is a ten minute walk from the Market’s Field. It is a  thirty minute walk from Thomond Park and the Gaelic Grounds. It is 2.5 kilometres from Mary Immaculate College, 4 kilometres from Limerick Institute of Technology, 4.5 kilometres from the University of Limerick. It is a 35 minute drive from Ennis and from Nenagh, it is a 40 minute drive from Newcastle West. More-so than just the city, it can be the very heart of the region if we have the vision to develop it as such.

The relative lack of development in the streets around the Market Quarter is actually an opportunity to create a unified vision of what that Quarter should be. It is arguable that the Cornmarket building was a missed opportunity to develop this area some two decades ago, we need to be careful to not make the same mistakes. The City Council should begin the planning process to develop new amenities within the Market Quarter such as a new Civic Museum, a new art gallery, a multi-purpose cultural centre (a cinema/theatre/event space) and set the standard that when these buildings are built they themselves inspire civic pride, that the Market Quarter is a place known through out Ireland as a place to visit. The Market Quarter has excellent cultural facilities in spaces such as the Hunt Museum and Ormston House.

The city has the chance to develop the Market Quarter into a leading shopping, social and cultural district outside of Dublin, if it has the vision to grasp the opportunity afforded to it. The lack of development of the Opera Centre is actually a vital chance for the city to get things right. Whatever is built there should meet the following criteria. It should be mixed use. It should ensure that  Patrick Street, Ellen Street and Robert Street result in proper interaction on street level. Too often large developments in Limerick have resulted into one facade of the building being effectively dead space on for the public. Ellen street and Robert street should converge into a public space with a square or plaza. Ideally this space would be used as an expansion space for the Market and for civic purposes.

When we look at the other vacant sites around the Market Quarter, we need to see them as opportunities to make the city something better. We need to think what is the next part of the puzzle that helps Limerick improve. We are at the edge of a fantastic opportunity, if we can take it. Limerick City Council has been taking brave steps to rebuild and reimagine Limerick City, now is the time to take another one and set out what we want our city centre to be and to build it around the Market Quarter.

When we think of the amenities that Limerick city currently lacks, we should see the Market Quarter as their natural development space. An area of the city where the city can come together to celebrate itself.

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