Special report: Developers battle it out for event centre funding

RIVAL developers competing to build Cork’s first indoor events and conference centre have launched an intensive lobbying campaign ahead of a review to determine who should get a €16m state support package.

Special report: Developers battle it out for event centre funding

It has led to calls last night for full transparency in the process which will ultimately lead to one of the projects getting the financial kick-start.

Fine Gael Cllr John Buttimer called for all and any conflicts or potential conflicts of interests to be declared before the review starts to ensure the entire process is “above reproach”.

Two developers — Owen O’Callaghan’s O’Callaghan Properties, and a joint venture by Heineken Ireland and BAM Contractors are considered front-runners to secure the funding — €10m from the Government and an estimated €6m from Cork City Council.

Mr O’Callaghan has planning for a €50m 6,000-capacity events centre on Albert Quay.

A €50m 6,000-capacity events centre is the focal point of Heinken/BAM’s €150m Brewery Quarter regeneration of the former Beamish and Crawford site on South Main Street.

City Hall is finalising the terms of reference for a review led by PwC to determine which project offers the best outcome for the city, and which will get the state backing.

Mr Buttimer said it is essential the review’s terms of reference are approved by council first.

“The terms of reference should be explicit that no final recommendation for a preferred site should be given,” he said.

“It is the responsibility of council to decide which site should be selected.”

However, the Green Party has criticised using taxpayer’s money to get the project off the ground. “It is truly sickening that at a time when the elderly, infirm, and sick of our city are having services cut or withdrawn, that our city leaders and government feel justified in giving taxpayers’ money to private businesses that wish to speculate on the provision of an event centre in Cork,” spokesman Mick Murphy said.

But Cork Business Association chief executive Donal Healy welcomed the state support package. “The city has been waiting long enough for such a facility,” he said.

“Whichever one is built, it will generate huge spin-off for every business in the city, help confidence return to the local economy, and foster an environment where we can sustain and create new jobs.”

Meanwhile, one of Cork’s leading hoteliers has criticised some business owners for publicly backing the Brewery Quarter project.

Montenotte Hotel boss, John Gately, who helped develop the city’s first events centre at the Silver Springs Hotel in 1990, said he is concerned the move could “damage” the review process.

The Boardwalk Bar and Grill owner urged people to take a “big picture view” and ensure that whatever happens, Cork gets its events centre.

“I’ve been 26 years in Cork waiting for an events centre to be built, and finally, we have public funding in place and developers happy to fund the balance,” he said.

“The locations are within five minutes of each and what happens? We get a squabble.

“Cork is a small city so irrespective of whichever project comes through this process, we will all benefit in equal measure.

“This Brewery Quarter campaign is just a distraction. I don’t see it helping the process.”

Mr Gately said the city should be focusing on ensuring the centre is built in the city — full stop. “I would urge people to stand back, to look at the big picture, not to push one over the other, don’t interrupt the process, and ensure we get a decision quickly and let’s get shovels in to the ground.”

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