Plans for the development of a co-working and innovation hub in the heart of Athlone have been unveiled.
To be accommodated on the grounds of the former workhouse building off Northgate Street, the project when realised, will be an exemplar model in the redevelopment and reuse of a heritage site as a contemporary multi-facility enterprise space that will provide a collaborative working environment and entrepreneurial eco-system that will contribute to regional growth.
The development plans, the result of a feasibility analysis commissioned by Athlone Chamber of Commerce, supported by Westmeath County Council, TUS and the IDA, were announced during the Monday sitting of the Athlone-Moate Municipal District.
At an expected cost of €8.8 million, when completed, the development will afford prime remote working opportunities and community space in a modernised setting with further potential to enhance the project in future times.
Addressing the District meeting, Mr Tom O’Leary, Co-Founder, HQ Co-Working Space Ltd, who will lead the development, stated that it made “perfect sense” for the Government to invest in such a project, Athlone’s location providing ease of access to the country’s major cities.
“As a company, we have been working on similar projects since 2006 and the potential for this development in Athlone is vast. When completed, the hub will have sufficient space to cater for community groups, start-ups and multi-national businesses, all of whom will be in a position to collaborate and network enabling future growth of this prime development,” Mr O’Leary asserted.
Maintaining the original workhouse building as the prominent feature, with existing extensions to be demolished, the proposed development will include an open plan, landscaped courtyard space to the rear of the building. This will link the hub with the existing workhouse buildings to the rear, reflecting the access to the workhouse from the administration building based on the original 1841 design.
Provision is therefore made for the future expansion of the facilities in future phased development. The development of this plaza will provide pedestrian access through the site and will be the catalyst for the potential regeneration of this are for the provision of community, arts, culture, commercial and enterprise space.
“When completed, the development will be an attractive, natural light filled building dotted with offices to cater for remote working employees from companies of various size. I believe the time is now right to progress with this initiative,” Mr O’Leary concluded.
Receiving unanimous support from the elected representatives present, Athlone-Moate Municipal District Mayor, Cllr Aengus O’Rourke noted that the proposed development would “take care of a major dereliction problem in a key location within our town”.
“Working collaboratively with the various partners associated with this development we must now plan for phase one of the build and I look forward to being of assistance as the initiative unfolds,” Cllr O’Rourke commented.
Fine Gael Councillor, John Dolan, stated that the proposed development was a “natural progression” for Athlone and the Midlands region.
“We are protecting the heritage of this particular site, yet adding to the modernised streetscape of our town with this proposed development,” Cllr Dolan asserted.
Green Party Councillor noted that the project potential was “undeniable”, while Independent Councillor, Paul Hogan, lauded the cohesive efforts of those who compiled the detailed feasibility analysis.
“The feasibility analysis presented before the members today is comprehensive, informative and insightful and with such collaboration I am hopeful that this development will be realised in due course,” Cllr Hogan added.
Fianna Fáil Councillor, Vinny McCormack, extolled the virtues of remote working which was now very much a regular occurrence following the onset of Covid-19.
“The onset of the pandemic has changed the working mindset and with many employees now working remotely, it has added value to lives with more time spent with family members as opposed to the daily commute to the office. If we opened this facility tomorrow, there would be no shortage of demand for hub space,” Cllr McCormack remarked.
Noting the estimate cost of the project, director of services, Mr Barry Kehoe, stated that there was a considerable amount of assessment to be conducted prior to the start of the project.
“We have a noted figure for this proposed development and while capital costs are difficult to predict at this moment in time, I do believe that we have crossed a significant hurdle with the publication of this feasibility analysis.
“The lease on this building is due to expire in 2026 and we have been positively working with TUS in this regard. They are interested in the provision of an education service in the realised hub, but we have yet to agree on the format this will take.
“It is now time to progress with development plans so we can avail of relevant funding when the relevant application periods arise,” Mr Kehoe concluded.