Strand Boardwalk Project fails to meet criteria for funding

A funding application for the council's controversial €1 million boardwalk project has been rejected by Fáilte Ireland, councillors heard at Monday's meeting of the Athlone Municipal District.

The council had made an application to Fáilte Ireland's Grant Scheme for Large Tourism Projects. This funding would supplement €190,000 of the council's own money. However, director of services Barry Kehoe told councillors the project failed to meet certain criteria to be granted funding.

The council's plan, which is part of the Athlone Waterfront Strategy, is to run the boardwalk from the marina to Burgess Park along the strand in an effort to make the area more accessible to locals and tourists alike.

Mr Kehoe told councillors that the project is "not the complete package" in the same respect that Athlone Castle is, with the latter's facilities for foreign language provision, historical story telling, and all-round visitor experience, fulfilling the all-important criteria for applying for funding under the Grant Scheme for Large Tourism Projects.

While he said Athlone is lucky to qualify on the edge of Ireland's Ancient East, he noted that the boardwalk project would have fitted in more neatly with the Lakelands and Waterways tourism brand, which is not being prioritised by Fáilte Ireland this year.

Independent councillor Michael O'Brien said Athlone is being bypassed as a tourism destination in favour of locations like Dublin, Cork, Westport, and Galway. He said it is essential Athlone is allowed to build on the potential offered by its location on the banks of the Shannon, but was pessimistic that pairing the project with other amenities would make a difference due to the demands of the fund's criteria.

Mayor of Athlone, John Dolan, expressed concern regarding the criteria and whether the project has the potential to meet them. He conceded that the boardwalk "is controversial" for many people.

Sinn Féin councillor Paul Hogan expressed his disappointment, saying the project is critical to the council's Waterfront Strategy. He acknowledged that some people in town do not support the project, but said he believed a "silent majority" do, and that the council needs to ensure it is provided in the long term.

Mr Kehoe told councillors that further appraisals will be carried out to see how the project can be "sold" better, perhaps linking it to other amenities and heritage sites like Athlone Castle and Luan Gallery so that it no longer sits alone.

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