The Phoenix Park is Europe's largest city park, comprising 1,752 acres. It was first opened to the public in 1747 as a place of enjoyment for all the citizens of Dublin. Today, the park is enjoyed by 10 million local, national and international visitors each year. It plays a central role in the life of Dublin city. It is a sanctuary from the city, an important sports, recreation and public amenity and home to a range of institutions, including Áras an Uachtaráin, Dublin Zoo, the Garda Síochána headquarters and the US ambassador's residence. As the world's urban population doubles from 3.5 billion to more than 7 billion over the next 40 years, parks and open spaces will become even more critical elements in the creation of vibrant cities and healthy communities. Therefore, the Phoenix Park will be central to how Dublin city continues to evolve as a great place to live, work and visit. From the local to the global, the Phoenix Park is beloved by Dubliners and international visitors alike. This was borne out recently when it won various awards, including the Irish Independent best local attraction for 2019 and a gold medal at the 2018 world urban parks awards.
In 2018, with funding from its strategic partners Fáilte Ireland, the Office of Public Works, OPW, commissioned a review of the visitor experience in the park. The Phoenix Park visitor experience strategic review proposes a roadmap for how this amazing resource can make a greater contribution to the tourism economy through sensitive enhancement of visitor infrastructure, along with the preservation of its unique heritage features. In this plan, the OPW seeks to realise the park’s potential as one of the truly great parks of the world, while also ensuring the unique features which make up the park will be conserved and protected for the enjoyment of generations to come.
Through a competitive tender process, Denis Byrne Architects was awarded the contract to undertake the review. Its objectives and requirements were to review the future tourism development potential of the Phoenix Park, to prepare a development plan for the Phoenix Park visitor centre and to prepare a development plan for the Magazine Fort.
The draft Phoenix Park visitor experience strategic review addresses the first objective, namely, to review the future tourism development potential of the Phoenix Park. The review examines five zones in the park, considering themes of welcome, history and heritage, activity and well-being, as well as of identity, biodiversity and connectivity with the city in the context of the current and future potential visitor experience at the Phoenix Park. The report sets out 29 recommendations which, if implemented, would increase the park’s contribution to the tourism economy, while, at the same time, ensuring the unique character of the Phoenix Park is conserved and protected for the enjoyment of generations to come. All recommendations will be subject to an OPW review, funding allocation and the statutory planning process.
The second objective in the brief is to prepare a development plan for the Phoenix Park visitor centre. The existing visitor centre complex is over 25 years old. Up to 1.7 million visitors were recorded at the complex in 2018 and the existing facilities are no longer fit for purpose. A new visitor centre is required which will provide interpretation of the park, café, retail and welfare facilities. Sustainable transport and parking facilities will need to be provided to include buses, cars, cyclists and pedestrians. Any developments or redevelopments proposed will be subject to the statutory planning process.
With regard to the third objective, to prepare a development plan for the Magazine Fort, it is proposed to conserve the fort and open it as a living history experience unique in Dublin. As part of the review, Dublin City Council, Fingal County Council, Fáilte Ireland, the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Waterways Ireland and Dublin Zoo were consulted. Currently, the public is being asked for its observations.