Mr Coveney said after months of complex negotiations on funding, the big ticket items have been concluded, with just finer details outstanding. He said the long-awaited 6,000-seat events centre will be built within two years.
“This is not a photo opportunity. This is the end of a complex two-and-a-half year process. And Friday’s event is the formal launch of a project that Cork has been waiting decades for. This will happen,” he insisted.
A €20m state aid package was sanctioned in December 2014 to get the project, earmarked for the former Beamish and Crawford brewery site on South Main St, off the ground. Talks got under way between joint venture partners BAM and site owners Heineken Ireland, with entertainment giants, Live Nation, and various government departments about how the funding, and the scheme itself, would be delivered and managed.
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But slow progress in the talks fuelled fears late last year that the project was in jeopardy. Sources close to the process said all the major hurdles have been cleared and the negotiations are in the final stages. Mr Coveney said the attendance at the sod turning of the key players — including senior representatives of BAM and Live Nation — proves that the project is over the line.
However, when it was confirmed on Monday that the sod turning was taking place on Friday before final contracts were signed off, Fianna Fáil Cllr Terry Shannon and Ind Cllr Mick Finn branded the ceremony a “cynical election stunt”.
It is understood that the legal transfer of the former Beamish and Crawford brewery site from Heineken to BAM in recent days cleared the way for the sod turning to proceed.
Mr Coveney insisted the timing had nothing to do with the election and expressed disappointment that it had been politicised: “If this wasn’t launched before the election, people would have been on my case.
“To be honest, I would have preferred if work had started long before now. But I wouldn’t be bringing the Taoiseach to the sod turning, and certainly, BAM and Live Nation wouldn’t be attending just for a photo opportunity. Friday’s event is the launch of one of the most significant projects in Cork in decades. As well as the employment it will create during construction, it will create a real buzz in that part of the city for pubs, clubs, restaurants, and hotels. This will be built in the next two years, if not sooner. People can now, I hope, enjoy the fact that Cork will have its own events centre, probably the most modern in the country, within two years.”
The Government is committing €12m with Cork City Council contributing €8m to the project. The facility will form the centrepiece of a wider €150m regeneration of the entire brewery site which will include apartments, shops, a cinema, two footbridges and laneways, a brewery museum, and a viewing tower with a two-storey bar and restaurant.