The Hughes family behind the Portwest clothing group plan to invest up to € 75 million in Westport House and Estate and the adjacent Westport hotel.
The latter is located on a site that was once part of the 175-hectare (433-acre) estate and will now be incorporated there as a single project.
It is hoped that overall development will make the area one of the largest tourist attractions in the west, with up to 300,000 visitors per year targeted over the next four years.
Westport House was acquired by the Hughes family in 2017 after it was put up for sale by Nama for 10 million euros. This week, it obtained 20.2 million euros in state funding for a 36.1 million euros public-private partnership (PPP) project for the construction of several new attractions on the estate.
The PPP project will include a large Wild Realms horticultural project on the estate in association with landscape designer Mary Reynolds, as well as a standalone Wild Heart exhibit focused on historical figure Grace O’Malley.
The PPP also includes a redesign of Westport House, which was owned by the Browne family. The remaining 15.9 million euros will be invested by the Hughes family themselves.
Meanwhile, the Hughes family will know next week whether they have received a building permit for the first phase of a massive Westport hotel upgrade, which will cost nearly € 20 million. The project includes the demolition of a large part of the public spaces of the 129-bed hotel, built by the family in the 1970s. It will then benefit from a new ballroom, restaurants and bars, and will see a renovation of all rooms and its leisure center.
Other parts of the estate’s overall development plan include an additional 5 million euros which is currently spent on improving the construction of Westport House, while there will also be investments in a new adventure facility on the estate and eventually a new independent tourist facility is also being considered.
The PPP, overseen on behalf of the state by Fáilte Ireland, is expected to be ready by 2024 or 2025, while the hotel redesign will also be ready by then.
The Hughes family has appointed Barry O’Connor as managing director to oversee the development master plan. Previously, he had reorganized Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links for Kennedy Wilson, prior to its sale in 2019, and was the general manager of the resort at Killeen Castle. He also ran the Doonbeg Golf Resort hotel.
“The country needs to build large-scale tourist attractions. Ireland currently has a tourism advantage over countries like Croatia and Denmark, but it needs to invest to keep that advantage, ”said Mr. O’Connor.
“But the government cannot do it on its own. We need to attract private investment in large-scale tourist attractions and the PPP model is helping to achieve this. “
Mr O’Connor said he hoped the development of Westport would help “bring more visitors” to the Galway area, traditionally one of the biggest draws on the Wild Atlantic Way which would be teeming with American and European visitors this this month, if not for the pandemic.