Plans launched for Cork event centre

Cork’s city manager has invited the private sector to pitch for public funding in a bid to secure the development of a large-scale events centre in the city.

Tim Lucey launched a competitive process last night which will see developers outline the level of public funding they need to bridge the ‘market failure’ gap to get the project off the ground. However, he declined to say how much money may be available.

Two previous attempts by the city to incentivise the private sector to build an events centre in Cork, including one in 2007 which offered around €8m, failed.

“It would be absolutely foolhardy to say what amount might be available without going through the competitive process,” said Mr Lucey. “It is important to note that the project should only proceed if the funding gap can be met, and is merited, given the level of economic benefit resulting.”

In a special report to council, Mr Lucey said analysts have found there is an economic case to justify public investment in a large multifunctional event centre for the city, particularly in view of the renewed interest from the private sector.

It would be of enormous economic benefit to the city, generating between €8m to €12m per annum and supporting up to 160 jobs.

However, an expert assessment has found market failure exists and without some level of public funding or subvention, the development will not proceed.

The backers of two major projects are likely to be the front-runners for public funding. BAM, with site owners Heineken Ireland, has planning permission for its €150m proposal on the former Beamish and Crawford site, which includes a 6,000-seat event centre, cinema, student apartments, restaurants, shops, bars, and galleries. Developer Owen O’Callaghan is awaiting a decision from An Bord Pleanála on his €50m 5,000-seat venue, with concert organisers Live Nation’s involvement, for a two-acre site on Albert Quay.

Mr Lucey said developers will also have to set out a detailed strategy on how their events centre would impact Cork Opera House, in which the city council is the largest shareholder.

Most councillors backed the manager and said that after years of talk, it was time for action.

Fine Gael councillor Emmet O’Halloran said 40% of patrons of the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin were from Munster.

Fianna Fáil councillor Ken O’Flynn quoted the film Field of Dreams and said: “If you build it, they will come.”

However, Labour councillor Denis O’Flynn and Worker’s Party councillor Ted Tynan urged caution when it comes to investing public money, citing investments in the Cork-Swansea ferry and the Sky Garden.

Socialist Party councillor Mick Barry voted against ploughing public money into the events centre, citing the Cork-Swansea ferry investment. “The private sector leg was weak in that case, and it’s weak in this case too, because it doesn’t see this as a viable investment,” he said.

Cork Chamber welcomed the manager’s decision and said an events centre would act as a significant catalyst for economic growth.

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