Howard Holdings wins city approval for event centre

CORK CITY COUNCIL voted after an hour of secret talks last night to plough over €8 million of public money into Howard Holdings’ plans to build a €33 million conference centre in the docklands.

Councillors were asked to back a report from city manager Joe Gavin which recommended they support the company’s proposal, selected by a special city committee, to build the multi-purpose venue. However, they were unhappy with the amount of information they were given beforehand and they cleared City Hall’s public gallery. The media was also asked to leave.

They then quizzed Mr Gavin for an hour-and-a-half on the process which led to the selection of the Howard Holdings proposal, and on the details of the project, before resuming the public meeting just before 7.30pm.

Then, without discussion, councillors voted 19 to seven to accept the report.

It clears the way for Howard Holdings to submit a detailed planning application for the site it owns and which hosted the Live at the Marquee series over the last two years. It is understood the application could be with planners within weeks.

Subject to planning, the company hopes to have the venue open in September 2009. The three-storey glass-fronted building has been designed to cater for:

6,000-plus performances, including 1,150 seated;

seated concerts of up to 4,200;

conferences of up to 2,000;

gala balls of up to 800 diners.

However, the venue could also be configured into smaller modules to host smaller events ranging from 400 to 1,500 capacity. It will be linked directly to a 200-bedroom hotel with a 1,000-seat banqueting hall, and a 1,000-space car park.

Last night’s vote followed a public invitation from Mr Gavin last April for submissions from the private sector to provide a suitable site, design, build, fund and manage an event centre.

Four submissions were received — the Howard Holdings proposal; one from Medaza, who wanted to build the venue at the Showgrounds; Ascon, who wanted to build on a site at Black Ash; and the Hyde Partnership who wanted to build on the Atkins site at the Carrigrohane Road.

An assessment board of senior city officials examined the proposals and recommended the Howard Holdings project.

Fianna Fáil councillor Tom O’Driscoll welcomed the outcome of the vote.

“This has been long awaited. It will do a lot for Cork, making it a year-round destination.”

Fine Gael’s Joe O’Callaghan said the city has been crying out for such a venue for decades.

Socialist Mick Barry said he voted against the “hand-out to a big business concern” to highlight the fact the private sector has until now refused to provide the city with such a venue.

Sinn Féin’s Jonathon O’Brien criticised the lack of public debate on the proposal.

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