The Government has been urged to make a decision soon on the request for an additional €10m in State funding required to deliver Cork’s stalled events centre.
It follows confirmation from developer BAM that it is poised to lodge a revised planning application with Cork City Council for an enlarged and more modern conference and arena facility on the former Beamish and Crawford site on the city’s South Main St.
And it comes as the first images of the enlarged new venue are revealed today.
The new application is a major step towards delivery of the proposed venue which has been dogged by controversy for years.
It’s understood that architects have designed an enlarged and more flexible events and conference centre and arena by incorporating a previously permitted office block, which was to face onto South Main St into the main arena to serve as “logistical support offices”.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney told the Dáil before the summer recess that legal advice from the Attorney General’s Office indicates that the State can increase its contribution to making the project commercially viable.
And the Department of Public Expenditure has almost completed a robust financial analysis of the entire scheme, including the request for additional State funding.
Mr Coveney welcomed the revised planning application, which he said demonstrates the scale and ambition of the project.
“There are a lot of moving parts in this project and they are all moving forward positively,” he said.
But Sinn Féin’s justice spokesperson Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said a political decision on the funding must happen soon, given that construction inflation is running at up to 7% per year.
“Everyone wants to see the events centre delivered for Cork. We can see from the positive impact that events such as the Ed Sheeran concerts had on Cork, how major events like this can add to the life of the city,” he said.
“But we need a decision in the coming weeks on the extra funding.
Cork Chamber chief executive Conor Healy also welcomed the revised planning application.
“Significant work has been undertaken by all involved over recent months to develop a sustainable project culminating in a new application for a redesigned facility which will transform the Cork city centre economy,” he said.
“We look forward to the project being widely supported to ensure it can get into construction phase without any undue delay.”
It will be four years this December since some €20m in State aid — €12m from Government and €8m from Cork City Council — was sanctioned when BAM won a competitive tender bid.
Former Taoiseach Enda Kenny turned the sod on the project in February 2016.
But when venue operator Live Nation came on board later, a complete redesign was ordered to make the venue financially viable, and costs soared to close to €75m.
It led to a request for an additional €10m of State funding.
Amid fears the scheme had hit the rocks, BAM moved last February to allay fears, insisting that a funding deal had been agreed in principle.
BAM and Live Nation have committed at least another €10m to the project.
But, with no public signs of progress since February, fears were mounting that the project was in jeopardy.
The Tánaiste, who has repeatedly insisted that the project will be delivered, said confirmation that a planning application is now being lodged should give people reassurance.
BAM is currently building student apartments on the Beamish and Crawford site and on Cork’s Western Rd, as well as a huge control tower at Dublin Airport.It is also poised to start work on the massive HQ mixed development on Cork’s Horgan’s Quay, and has plans for a hotel and office development on the city’s Sullivan’s Quay.
Lord Mayor Cllr Mick Finn, who was briefed on the project yesterday, described the revised application for planning permission as ‘hugely important and promising’ but warned that all moving parts in this process will still have to be kept well oiled in order for the venue to be delivered.
“This is a massive, transformative project for Cork and will catapult the city to new heights in the region, nationally and indeed globally: these are the heights the city is aiming and planning for and so the revised planning application is welcome,” he said.
“I met with the developers and viewed the plans which promise and even better facility than was first imagined.
“All parties – council, government and developers – must now adopt a fast-track approach to getting this application through the process.”