Cork is finally poised to get a major concert and events centre on a former brewery site after a last-minute deal to increase State investment in the project from €16m to €20m was secured.
Talks went down to the wire yesterday before the Heineken/BAM consortium’s plan to build a €53m 6,000-seat venue on the historic Beamish & Crawford brewery site finally emerged victorious from a complex, lengthy, and competitive tender process for public funding.
Their project, the centrepiece of a €150m Brewery Quarter regeneration of the entire brewery site, beat the only other bidder, developer Owen O’Callaghan’s €50m 6,000-seat venue proposed for Albert Quay.
Both had been competing for a €16m kickstart fund — €10m from government funding and up to €6m from the city council.
The Irish Examiner has learned that the selection process, which nearly collapsed during the summer, came close to collapse again just days ago. It is understood both bidders told the evaluation team their projects weren’t viable under the current terms.
Following the intervention of Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, talks with the Taoiseach and Public Expenditure Minister, and with city council CEO Ann Doherty over the weekend, the process was saved.
The Government agreed to up its investment to €12m and the city said it was willing to plough €8m into the project.
Half the council’s investment would be repaid by the commercial rates accruing from the construction and operation of the events centre. The successful bidder was finally decided yesterday morning — hours before deadline.
It is understood the deal includes a six-month period for the events centre operator, Live Nation, to engage in detailed design talks.
Preliminary site work could start early in the new year. The project will provide 400 jobs over five years, and will support up to 900 direct jobs, with 300 indirect jobs upon completion.
Mr Coveney welcomed the conclusion and said the level of State investment would deliver major economic benefits.
“There have been several false dawns on this project for Cork but I am delighted a decision has now been made. This facility will be the equivalent of the 3Arena, the National Arena, and the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, in one.”
“This is a strategic investment, a really exciting project that will have a huge impact on the city and its businesses — everything from rock concerts to conferences.
“It will have a bigger impact on the city than many other projects in recent years, creating a huge commercial eco-system around it that will create a huge buzz in the city.”
Heineken spokesman Declan Farmer said he was delighted their consortium was successful. “We will now reflect on this decision and look forward to bringing the project to fruition.”
A spokesman for Mr O’Callaghan said: “While disappointed at the outcome, we nevertheless welcome the fact that a decision has finally been made and wish BAM Heineken every success with the project.”
Former Beamish boss, Alf Smiddy, said it was fantastic news for a Cork. “This inspirational development will be transformational for Cork city and Ireland, and the decision is clearly a defining moment and a new beginning for all corkonians,” he said. Councillors later signed off the council investment.
FG Cllr John Buttimer described the events centre as a game changer for the marketing of Cork and SF Cllr Chris O’Leary said it will breath new life in to the city. Deputy Mayor Ken O’Flynn said the facility will help the city reinvent and reinvigorate itself.
However, Cllr Mick Barry questioned the level of state investment while Cllr Ted Tynan said he could not understand how €8m can be invested in such a facility when council homes and footpaths are in disrepair. The delivery of an events centre in Cork has been an objective of the city council since the 1990s.
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