Following months of uncertainty, it was confirmed yesterday that agreement has only been reached in recent days to appoint an architectural team to complete the internal designs of the 6,000-seater venue — a process expected to take up to two months.
The outcome of this process will inform talks in October aimed at nailing down final costings for the project, which is set to receive up to €20m in public funding.
But contractors, BAM, have confirmed that in the meantime, they are preparing to start demolition work within 10 days on key parts of the former Beamish and Crawford brewery site on North Main St, and to start archaeological surveys.
The work is set to begin almost six months after Taoiseach Enda Kenny turned the sod on the project days before the general election.
BAM chief, Theo Cullinane, also confirmed the firm is set to lodge a planning application with Cork City Council within days for revisions to the student apartment element of its wider €150m Brewery Quarter regeneration of the entire site.
Housing Minister Simon Coveney said he had met earlier this month with key partners in the project, including BAM, entertainment giant Live Nation, which will operate the venue, and senior city officials, in a bid to advance the project.
“Progress has been slow and it is frustrating,” he said. “I am as impatient as everybody else to see this event centre being built. There has been a lot of scepticism around it. It has been slow but it is going to happen.”
He defended the pre-election sod turning and said it was important the key partners demonstrated a public commitment to the project, and he insisted the public funding is still secure.
“When you have that public commitment, it’s not easy to back out. In fact, the pressure which has come from that launch has ensured that this process has been pushed along,” he said.
“I am confident that once the internal designs are complete, we will have a much more accurate assessment of the overall costs.”
Mr Cullinane accepted that the delay has been frustrating but he said the internal design process has been extremely complex.
“This will be the first time anything like this has been built in Ireland. This is not just going to be a big basketball hall that will host concerts. This will be unique, a bespoke and multi-functional facility that will be able to host a ballet one day, and a rock concert the next day,” he said.
“Given the size of the market in the region, the facility has to be designed to be flexible, to facilitate a rapid-change around ... That is a complex process and will take time to get right.”
City council chief executive, Ann Doherty, said she would like to have seen more progress on the project but it is important that BAM and Live Nation get the design right, first time.
“We are all of the one ambition, that this event centre gets built,” she said.
City councillors, who asked before the summer for a detailed briefing from the contractors and Live Nation on the project timeline, are not expected to get any formal update before October.
Another false dawn, or finally a sign of progress?
The delivery of a multi-functional events and conference centre in Cork City has been a strategic target of city officials for decades.
After several false dawns, BAM and Live Nation finally won a complex and protracted competitive tender process for some €20m in state-aid in December 2013, to build the facility on the former Beamish and Crawford brewery site on the city’s North Main St.
The 6,000-seat venue will be a key element of the wider €150m Brewery Quarter regeneration of the site.
The joint venture partners’ proposal beat developer Owen O’Callaghan’s plan to build a 6,000-seat standalone events centre on Albert Quay — a site now earmarked for offices.
But almost two years on from the public funding deal, work on the centre has yet to start.
Hopes were raised last February when Taoiseach Enda Kenny turned the sod on the site just days before the general election — an event labelled an election stunt at the time.
But the key partners predicted that demolition work would start on site within weeks of the sod turning. Live Nation boss Mike Adamson went so far as to say he hoped the facility would be ready to host its first concerts in 2018.
But six months on, building work has yet to start and the site is lying idle.
It emerged earlier this year that some contracts have yet to be signed, and that internal design work hasn’t even been completed yet.
After months of silence, the key partners insisted yesterday that the process is still on track, and will be built.
Only time will tell if this is another false dawn.