Crunch talks are set to take place this week in a bid to save the controversial Cork events centre project.
The Irish Examiner has learned that legal advisers on the stalled 6,000-seat venue, where costs have soared to almost €73m, have prepared advice on how much extra funding the State can commit to the project before the entire process is open to legal challenge.
Following a competitive tender process almost three years ago, the State sanctioned €20m in public funding. Former taoiseach Enda Kenny turned the sod on the former Beamish and Crawford brewery site on South Main St almost two years ago but construction has yet to start.
Following a complete redesign of the original venue last year, to ensure it would be commercially viable, the developers asked earlier this year for another €18m in state support for a larger venue. They said the costs had increased by €12m and that a €6m contingency fund was also needed.
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said following weeks of legal scrutiny on that additional funding request, a draft recommendation on the figures is now ready. But he refused to be drawn on how much of the additional €18m the Government can sanction before the original competitive tender process is open to challenge.
It is understood that the legal and financial situation will be outlined to BAM and Live Nation, this week, who will then have to make a decision on whether to proceed on that basis or not.
Mr Coveney defended the latest delay and said the State had to go through a lengthy process to test the legal implications of the additional funding request.
“I’m happy now that we have a recommendation from the legal team in terms of what Government can and can’t do,” he said.
“It will be so much, and our legal advice says we can’t go anymore without actually looking at the (competitive tender) process all over again — which we certainly don’t want to do.
“It has taken a long time to get us this far — we are not starting again. We’ve got a site, we’ve got planing permission, we’ve got a developer ready to go, we’ve got an event manager who’s the best in the world at doing what they do.
“We want to make this happen now, and we need to finalise the financial package that will give BAM and Live Nation the support they need to make it happen. We are trying to finalise that now to make sure we don’t have a legal challenge to the process, that the competitive process still stands up and that the financing of this project isn’t so fundamentally changed that the process is called into question.”
Mr Coveney said once the legal situation is outlined to BAM and Live Nation, talks to find a way forward will then have to involve the Department of the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and the department of Public Expenditure.
“I’ve offered timelines in the past, but this is a project I have a huge personal connection with, and one I’ve taken a lot of grief on, and that’s fine,” he said. “I’m happy to do that as long as we make this happen in the end. We are really at the end-game point at this stage.
“I thought we’ve been there on a number of occasions to date, but to be clear, the ask has come to me to find more funding.
“We don’t want to build a mediocre events centre.
“This will be a really special piece of infrastructure for the city that’s going to be there for the next 50-80 years.”
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