There has been a cautious welcome to the Taoiseach’s confirmation of “state funding certainty” to finally deliver the stalled €80m Cork event centre.
Leo Varadkar confirmed yesterday that a new simplified process has been agreed to ensure certainty over the levels of and delivery mechanisms for the substantial state-aid package required to get the long-awaited project over the line.
While €30m of state-aid has been pledged towards the construction element for some time, it is understood that total state investment to deliver the venue could top some €40m, with investment sanctioned for public realm improvements in and around the South Main St area.
Mr Varadkar said the government is absolutely committed to making the project happen and is 100% behind it.
"We are confident that it will secure planning and after that, we've simplified the structure so that Cork City Council will become the lead agency to deliver the project and will receive government funding through its parent department, the department of housing, planning and local government, in order to mark this a reality and that will be done from the existing capital ceilings," he said.
Tanaiste Simon Coveney insisted that the government hasn't written a blank cheque for the developers but said final figures can't be discussed publicly until contracts are finalised.
"The government is very clear in terms of what this is going to cost," he said.
"It's more than originally envisaged, but the project is better than what was envisaged.
"There is a clear understanding now involving all partners of what the government is willing to put into this project, and I am confident it is sufficient to get this done."
Former Lord Mayor, Cllr Mick Finn, who just before leaving office this summer slated the government for its handling of the project welcomed the announcement.
“I am hopeful that this ‘funding certainty’ will result in works starting onsite and that the long-awaited and much-maligned event centre project will finally start,” he said.
But Fianna Fáil Cllr Ken O’Flynn criticised the ongoing dithering amid reports that there are plans to build a 2,000-seat events centre in Tralee.
“I, like everyone else interested in seeing an events centre in Cork, am very concerned that if another events centre is development in Munster before Cork, it will be the one that gains traction," he said.
“And if that happens with Tralee, then Cork will lose out and that will not only be outrageous after almost four years of dithering, but downright shameful on Fine Gael for allowing it happen.”
He called for cast-iron guarantees in relation to the zoning of the earmarked site on the former Beamish and Crawford site on South Main St to ensure that nothing but an events centre can be built there.
As first reported by the Irish Examiner today, the government has agreed to provide the “necessary funding within spending ceilings” to allow Cork City Council enter final contract negotiations with developers BAM and the venue operators Live Nation later this year.
Specific figures are not being disclosed pending the outcome of the final contract talks.
Concerns over the terms and conditions associated with a €9m loan element of the state’s long-pledged €30m support package have dogged the project since the start of the year.
Clearing the funding hurdle was seen as a vital step to give certainty to the project.
The new process announced today follows a full review of the entire project, undertaken by senior civil servant, Martin Fraser.
It will see the department of housing and local government taking responsibility from the department of arts for delivering to the city council the various funding streams for the venue.
It is understood that this process remains legally consistent with the terms of the original tender.
City planners are due to issue a planning decision on the enlarged venue by the end of next month.
It's hoped that if the project gets the green light and there is no appeal, builders could be on site before next summer.