The face of Armagh City will be transformed over the coming year with more than £70 million to be invested in a range of developments.
Education, retail, culture and leisure will all be boosted with a range of multi-million pound schemes about to get underway.
A new £30 million replacement to the Orchard Leisure Centre in Armagh is expected to be confirmed in the very near future.
The long-awaited Townscape Heritage scheme in the city centre is due to be launched next week.
It will see more than £6 million being spent to refurbish, renovate and repair a total of 28 properties, bringing them back into productive use and creating in the region of 50 jobs.
This coming week will also finally see the keys being handed over for work to get going full steam ahead on the new Irish language cultural centre.
Armagh Harps new state-of-the-art replacement clubrooms at Abbey Park will also get underway this year. The development also includes a creche.
Work has also started on the £30 million Southern Regional College campus, with the bulldozers having moved in to clear the Lonsdale Road site.
A four-year capital budget is expected to be agreed within the next fortnight.
These are exciting times, according to former Lord Mayor Garath Keating.
He highlighted “the vital imperative of continued and ongoing investment in local projects to ensure improving conditions for continuing economic development”.
The Sinn Fein representative is looking forward to seeing the multi-million pound funding cocktail and ongoing investment working in real and tangible ways for the people of Armagh.
“Standing still would effectively be going backwards and we cannot – and must not – allow that to happen,” said Councillor Keating.
“We have to be ambitious for our city and for this area, and to continue with the dedicated work in continually developing the potential of this fantastic place for all who live, work and visit here.”
Describing the upcoming developments as “very important and positive”, he highlighted the extent of the investment proposals in the pipeline.
He told Armagh I : “Next week will see the official launch of the Townscape Heritage project which will see over £4m of funding secured from the Lottery with a further £2m from council invested to improve and increase the economic use of a significant number of properties across the town centre and Mall areas, which will have a very positive impact.
“A further £2m investment from council has now also been secured in order to help tackle some of the city’s most prominent eye sores. There are a number of locations across the town which require urgent attention and this funding will allow us to undertake that work to greatly help enhance the visual appearance of the area.”
Councillor Keating this week had also recorded an “historic moment”, when the Aonach Mhacha project board finally received the keys and the green light to proceed with the redevelopment of the old fire station site in the Shambles.
“This fantastic community-based project – driven by the local Irish language community and backed to the tune of £2.2m by Department of Communities, Ciste and council – will, together with further development of the Johnston Building and other private developments in the area, see an effective overhaul and improvement of the entire Shambles area.”
Turning to education and sport and leisure, he added: “Work is now already just underway to build a new state-of-the-art £30m SRC campus on Lonsdale Road in the city.
“And later this year will also see commencement of a major £1m-plus works funded by the Social Investment Fund to develop GAA and community facilities at the Harps Club’s Abbey Park ground.”
Councillor Keating also confirmed work was “well underway” in developing a major plan in relation to the provision of sport, health and recreation facilities to replace the Orchard Leisure Centre.
He said: “That building is fast approaching the end of its lifespan and served the community excellently, but we now need to be planning beyond it.
“We are currently in the process of trying to secure agreement and financing for the huge £30m plus capital investment required for that project and, hopefully, a positive announcement in that regard will soon be on the horizon.”