Vintners group rejects bias claim over event centre

A vintners lobby group has been criticised for urging Cork members to attend a briefing on a multi-million events centre project — backed by a brewery.

The Vintner’s Federation of Ireland was accused of pushing one of the front-running proposals which is competing with another for a €16m tax-payer funded kick-start package.

Earlier this week, the VFI send out a text to its members in Cork City informing them about an information briefing session to be held in the city next week on the Heineken Ireland/BAM Contractors proposal.

The consortium wants to build a €50m 6,000-capacity events centre on the former Beamish and Crawford site on South Main St as a key part of its €150m Brewery Quarter regeneration scheme.

It is competing with O’Callaghan Properties, which has plans for a €50m 6,500-capacity events centre on Albert Quay, for a €16m State aid package.

Consultants are poised to start a review process to determine which project offers the best outcome to Cork.

It will ultimately influence which project is most likely to get the State support — €10m from Government and at least €6m from Cork City Council.

A group of leading business owners, including several prominent publicans, have set up a lobby group, Support the Brewery Quarter, to support the Heineken/BAM proposal.

The VFI trade association, which has some 4,500 members, urged its members to attend a briefing by the group at SoHo Bar on Grand Parade on Tuesday.

However, several city publicans contacted the Irish Examiner to express their concerns about the text.

One publican, who asked not to be named, said it gave the impression that the VFI is actively encouraging its members to support the brewery-backed plan.

Fine Gael councillor John Buttimer, who led calls earlier this week for transparency and openness in the review, said whatever project is chosen, it should benefit the entire city.

“Of course publicans are entitled to their make up their own minds on which project they favour,” said Mr Buttimer. “But ultimately, whichever site or project is chosen, it must be assessed on a series of criteria which will ensure that the entire city benefits and not just a narrow sectoral interest group.”

The VFI rejected the criticism and defended sending the text messages.

CEO Padraig Cribben insisted that the VFI does not favour one events centre proposal over the other, and does not have a preference for which site is developed.

However, he said the VFI is anxious work does start on an events centre in Cork sooner rather than later.

He declined to comment further.

A spokesman for O’Callaghan Properties said it has not been approached by the VFI.

Meanwhile, BAM Contractors has invited public representatives to a briefing on its Brewery Quarter proposal on Monday.


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