The lack of progress on the long-mooted event centre for Cork is impeding the city’s growth and will impact several industries if not started immediately, according to business groups in the region.
A joint statement by Cork Business Association and the Cork branches of the Irish Hotels Federation, Vintners Federation of Ireland and the Restaurants Association of Ireland called for “certainty, accountability and meaningful communication” on the project.
The groups called on Tánaiste Simon Coveney, developer Bam, and operator Live Nation for clarity on the event centre’s future timeline.
“The process has dragged out and at this stage, the Government needs to deliver on this project, by resolving all interdepartmental issues and ensuring that Bam and Live Nation also deliver on their end,” the groups said.
The project at the former Beamish & Crawford brewery site on South Main St has been beset by delays, seen public investment almost double, and costs soar from €53m to just under €80m in four years.
Following a tender process, Bam was named in December 2014 as the preferred bidder for €20m of state aid with its design for a €53m, 6,000-capacity venue.
The process included a six-month period for entertainment giant Live Nation, the proposed operator, to engage in detailed design talks with the winning bidder.
But Live Nation said the tendered design wouldn’t be commercially viable and that a larger venue would be needed.
That triggered a lengthy and complex redesign and planning process which has seen costs rise to close to €80m and a request for an additional €10m in state aid, which was sanctioned in December.
The business groups in Cork said that “growth in the city is currently impeded as we wait for answers”.
“There will be a detrimental impact on several industries and the local economy if there is further stalling of the process. Hoteliers, publicans, restaurateurs and businesses are investing heavily in the region because of the potential that the city holds. But return on that investment very much depends on the event centre coming to fruition,” they said, adding that investment in the city was currently being put on hold because of the lack of a start date.
“There is potential investment earmarked for the neighbouring Marsh and North Main St area, but that investment won’t be made until the event centre is underway. It is well known that the retail sector is suffering both nationally and internationally and the substantial year-round footfall that the event centre would bring would breathe new life and vibrancy into our city.
“It’s an important foundation stone for the future of Cork that will speed up regeneration, dramatically change the night time economy and have real and sustained positive benefits both socially and economically — but the whole city is on hold waiting for it.”
An IHF Cork report last week said there were 1,500 hotels rooms in the planning process for Cork, but that many would go unoccupied at various times of the year if the centre was not built.
The joint business groups said the hotel market was “just not sustainable at the rate it is growing” without the centre.
Mr Coveney said talks are ongoing for delivery, and that the Government was determined to see it through.