Tim Lucey confirmed last night that contractors are poised to start work immediately on a major restoration and upgrade of Fitzgerald Park as part of the council’s Mardyke Gardens project.
It will include the installation of some of the key elements of celebrity gardener Diarmuid Gavin’s Sky Garden and its signature flying pod in a riverside section of the park.
Health and safety issues have forced the redesign of the garden to fit in to a public park setting, with the ‘flying pod’ due to be set on stilts to provide a viewing platform of the River Lee.
But Mr Lucey said the Sky Garden represents a small part of the overall park regeneration plan.
“The pod is one piece of a much bigger investment in the park which hasn’t had this level of investment in over a century,” he said.
He urged people to reserve judgement on the entire project until it is unveiled to the public in about five months.
Supported by Fáilte Ireland to the tune of some €1.8m, the Mardyke Gardens includes:
* The refurbishment of the park’s fountain and ornamental pond, which has already been completed;
* The development of a new bandstand and public performance area;
* The creation of a walled Victorian fruit and vegetable garden.
But it also includes the retrofitting of the Sky Garden in to a section of the park near the public museum.
The garden, inspired by the Oscar-winning movie Avatar, featured a flying pod which was slung from a crane at the 2011 Chelsea Flower Show.
It wowed garden experts and won the coveted gold medal, fuelling hopes that it would boost its profile once it was relocated back to Cork for use as a tourist attraction.
But within weeks, the project became mired in controversy.
In a very public row, Mr Gavin detailed behind- the-scenes difficulties he said hampered the delivery of the garden at Chelsea.
He slated the city council for its handling of the project and called for the entire scheme to be scrapped.
The council has always defended its management of the Sky Garden project and finally decided to cut all ties with Mr Gavin and proceed with the Mardyke Gardens without him.
The pod has been in storage in Cork for almost two years.
The Irish Examiner revealed in January how the council had spent almost €100,000 storing the garden’s plants, trees, and shrubs.
It has been paying €6,000 a month since last October to store the materials.
Several city councillors have criticised the amount of taxpayers’ money being spent on the project, with Workers’ Party Cllr Ted Tynan describing the pod as like the “axle of a tractor”.
But yesterday, Mr Lucey defended the overall vision and pointed out that Fáilte Ireland are funding most of the project as part of its investment in Cork’s tourism infrastructure.
Details and images of Mardyke Gardens will be unveiled at a ceremony in the park this morning.