State aid for Cork event centre gets green light

The multi-million Cork event centre project has cleared a major funding hurdle as contract talks on the massive piece of infrastructure reach a critical stage.

The Irish Examiner has learned that the EU has finally given the green light to the investment of almost €20m of public money into the project.

There were concerns that strict EU rules on state aid could jeopardise or stall delivery of this kick-start funding — without which the centre could not be built.

However, the city’s head of planning Pat Ledwidge, a key member of Cork City Council’s team overseeing its involvement in the project, confirmed that state aid concerns are no longer an issue.

Officials in the Department of Finance have been liaising with EU officials on the complex state aid and public funding issue in recent months and all the outstanding matters are now resolved, he said.

The decision paves the way for the Government, pending the outcome of further contract talks, to officially release a €20m funding package — €12m from Government and up to €8m from Cork City Council — to the project developers.

Those contract talks between the city council and BAM Contractors are now at a critical stage.

Mr Ledwidge said the current plan is to spend the bulk of the public money on the former Beamish & Crawford brewery site in 2016, with more again earmarked for spending in 2017.

However, he said given the scale of public investment in the facility, the contract talks will be very detailed to ensure legally-binding agreements are in place before construction starts.

BAM is also understood to be at a critical stage in its talks with Live Nation, the global entertainment giant lined up to operate the venue once it is built.

Marine Minister Simon Coveney moved last night to ease concerns amid rumours that certain talks had stalled.

“The negotiations are difficult and robust, but that was to be expected,” he said.

“I would urge people to have patience but I am satisfied that this process is still on schedule with the timetable. This project will be delivered and I would be hopeful of seeing cranes on site before the end of the year.”

The Heineken/BAM consortium’s plan to build a €53m 6,000-seat venue on the historic Beamish & Crawford brewery site on South Main St emerged victorious last December 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 — a site now earmarked for a major office block development.

Both had been competing for a €16m kick-start fund, but last-minute concerns prompted the State to up its level of investment to €20m in a bid to secure the delivery of the facility.

The process, which came close to collapse last year during the tendering process for public funding, almost collapsed again before the State increased its funding. It is hoped talks could be finalised by the end of August and site clearance would begin by the end of the year.

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