The State has finally been cleared to increase to €30m its investment in the stalled Cork event centre project.
And any cost over-runs from now on in relation to the €74m venue will have to be borne by developers BAM and their partners Live Nation within the existing funding arrangements, Tánaiste Simon Coveney warned last night.
He made his comments as he confirmed to the Irish Examiner that long-awaited legal advice from the attorney general in relation to a request made earlier this year for an additional €10m on top of the €20m sanctioned in December 2014 to help deliver the 6,000-capacity venue can be accommodated without the original tender being at risk of a possible legal challenge.
“We now have legal confirmation of this €30m,” Mr Coveney said.
“That’s the limit and it has been the understanding since last January that it is on this basis that things move ahead.
The funding uncertainty was one of the main obstacles facing the project which has become mired in controversy since the sod turning in February 2016.
But a planning decision is still awaited.
With the city council poised to contribute several million to ‘supporting infrastructure’ for the site, and certainty over the state funding, it is hoped that BAM will now move quickly to respond to an extensive request for further information issued by city planners on foot of a planning application in August for an enlarged venue.
The tender for the initial €20m in state aid was awarded on December 23, 2014, to BAM, for its South Main St site, following a competitive tender process against O’Callaghan Properties, and their Albert Quay site.
The sod was turned on the project by former taoiseach Enda Kenny in February 2016. But construction has yet to start.
In a bid to make the venue commercially viable, a complete redesign was ordered, costs spiralled to close to €74m, a request was made for extra state funding, and a new planning application was lodged in August.
Several target dates have been missed over the years, with critics claiming the public have lost all faith in the process.
But Mr Coveney said the Government has now found a way to facilitate the extra funding, and he said he expects the developers to respond.
“I see no reason why this shouldn’t move ahead now, pending confirmation of planning. Cork has been waiting a long time for this. It will transform Cork,” he said.
Planners have asked BAM to address their concerns about several fundamental design elements in relation to the enlarged venue, including the ‘bulk and scale’ of the building, the extent of ‘dead frontage’ and the glass-fronted area facing onto South Main St.
Since losing the tender for the event centre, O’Callaghan Properties has built Cork’s largest office block on the Albert Quay site, with the first tenants due to move in early in the new year.