Question marks hang over future of Longford Town Centre

It was supposed to be one man’s dream of turning Longford into the retail mecca of the midlands, but instead it has become just another casualty of Ireland’s construction collapse.

It was supposed to be one man’s dream of turning Longford into the retail mecca of the midlands, but instead it has become just another casualty of Ireland’s construction collapse.

Bernard McNamara had hoped his Longford Town Centre creation would follow much the same path as other leading precincts up and down the country.

Yet, three years after its eventual completion, the centre remains firmly closed and within the growing portfolio base of the National Assets Management Agency (NAMA).

Fresh from being named amongst more than 800 properties under its tutelage in the wake of the property fallout, agency officials now face the arduous task of auctioning the building to the highest bidder.

Undoubtedly, one of the most difficult tasks facing NAMA executives is putting an accurate market price on the multi purpose facility.

Indeed, the story behind the centre and its chief investor epitomises just how the value of property and development land has deteriorated in recent times.

Insiders have put the estimated cost of the project to have cost the beleagured McNamara and his Michael McNamara and Company which is currently in receivership around €25m.

And despite Treasury Management officials declining to be drawn on the subject this week, the Leader understands the official price of the luxury centre is €6m. However in reality, local sources believe that NAMA will sell the building for much less, for as little as €1 million if the purchaser has a viable business plan for the project. NAMA is not releasing any details about prices for any of its property and the receiver FGS is staying tight-lipped also. A spokesman for FGS said the finer details behind the centre were “exceptionally sensitive”, thereby preventing the release of any information on its prospective sale.

That hasn’t stopped speculation about the future of the beatifully designed centre.

“It’s ideal for a hotel but somebody has to put a plan together and cost it,” said one well placed source this week. “The only way something can be done is if individual members or the business community collectively come up with a plan to take things forward.”

Recently, rumours also emerged leading figures behind major retail chain, Iceland were eyeing up the possibilty of moving into the centre as a potential anchor tenant.

Councillor Peggy Nolan said she had not given up on seeing the frozen food company set up operations in the centre despite sustained but unsuccessful efforts by www.longfordleaer.ie to speak with its chief executive, Tom Keogh were this week.

“A presentation was made by the county council to Iceland about four months ago in the hope of providing much needed jobs and I for one am still hoping that can still be achieved,” she said.

Whether it’s Iceland or some other large scale operator, it remains to be seen just how much or how little it will take before NAMA’s top brass consider offloading this landmark project.