THE OMNIPLEX GROUP has pledged to have the Longford shopping centre up and running in less than two years after it snapped up the long-vacant building.
It was revealed this week that the cinema chain has acquired the Longford Town Centre, which was under the control of receivers appointed by state bad-bank Nama.
Mark Anderson, one of the directors of the Omniplex group, has said that the firm is planning to develop an entertainment centre in the building which will be centred around an Omniplex cinema.
While there is currently a four-screen Omniplex cinema adjacent to the shopping centre, Anderson said that the firm is looking at moving it inside the complex.
“Our Longford cinema is a four-screen complex, and four screens aren’t fit for a world-class facility, which is what we see this as,” he told Fora.
“We will increase the number of screens by 50%, if not 100%, and we’re exploring the feasibility of moving the cinema to within the shopping centre.
“We would hope that would be complemented by leisure facilities, maybe four or five restaurants, and we would be looking to get another leisure element in there. (The centre) will be a leisure, retail and dining experience.”
The centre was built during the boom and was almost completely finished when the property market crashed.
It has lain idle in the centre of the town since then. Loans connected to the centre were taken over by Nama and receivers acting on behalf of the state agency put it on the market in August with a price tag of €950,000.
Anderson declined to reveal what the cinema group paid for the centre, saying only that it was above the near-€1 million asking price. He said that the company will now invest “a multiple of that” in the complex.
The opening of the vacant shopping centre would represent a significant boost to Longford, which is also about to get a huge new Center Parcs holiday resort. Anderson said that it made “good business sense” to invest in the county.
“We’ve been trading in the cinema in Longford since the 70s, and we felt that there was a potential to maximise our potential with the shopping centre,” he said.
“We will be investing a substantial amount of money into this project. We’re not interested in just mouthing positive words, we’re investing millions into Longford.
“It will possibly be 12-18 months until this comes to fruition (opening the shopping centre).”
The Longford shopping centre has about 73,000 sq ft of retail space over two floors, enough for several dozen outlets.
Omniplex will handle the management of the centre and will act as a landlord. The company has done this in several locations in the past, such as with the Swan shopping centre in Rathmines, which it also owns.
Asked if developing regional shopping centres has become part of a strategy for the cinema chain, Anderson said: “We’re doing this in Omagh at the moment, and on the outskirts of Belfast we have an Omni retail park which is leisure and restaurant based.
“The businesses feed on the cinema footfall and vice-versa, it’s a mix that works very well for the cinemas and for tenants.”