Just weeks before the revamped Páirc Uí Chaoimh hosts its first game, hoarding will go up around the adjoining former Munster Showgrounds site before eight to 10 weeks of site clearance works starts on phase one of Cork City Council’s €15m-€20m Marina Park development.
The council has been planning for several years to develop a huge public park extending from Monahan Rd and Centre Park Rd west of the stadium all the way east to Blackrock harbour, which is itself undergoing a massive regeneration, due to be finished next month.
However, controversy erupted when the council sold a portion of land earmarked for the park, to the Cork County Board, to facilitate the stadium project.
Critics argued that the GAA plans would sever the proposed park.
However, the redrawn Marina Park plans, with the stadium and its new centre of excellence campus at its heart, went through public consultation in 2014.
City officials have now confirmed that work on phase one — the lands west of the stadium and around the Atlantic Pond — is finally poised to start.
Detailed designs for phase one should be finished by the end of July and it should go to tender before the end of the year, with construction due to start early next year, and opening scheduled by January 2019.
It is hoped to retain a central hall area of the former showgrounds for use as a pavilion, to include a covered playground, events space, and food or drinks outlet. The structure is being assessed before a final decision is made on how much of it can be retained.
This area of the park will feature a central plaza for cultural events and concerts, and a western plaza for smaller busking-style or street performance events.
Liam Casey, the council’s senior executive parks superintendent, said he is confident that people will be impressed when they see the park’s first phase begin to take shape.
He said the design philosophy has been to maximise the recreational opportunities in an attractive landscaped environment and integrate the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh and its extended campus as a “major iconic element” within the park.
“This new park will provide a major green infrastructure bookend on the east of the city centre to compliment the fully redeveloped Fitzgerald’s Park west of the city,” he said.
“It will provide a link from the Blackrock/Passage walk and cycleway through the city centre, along Mardyke Walk on to the Lee Fields, with an objective to create an off-road connection to the regional park in Ballincollig.”
The 32-hectare park masterplan was prepared by leading European landscape architects and consultants, OKRA, in consultation with the council’s parks division.
The designers focused on accessibility, activity, ecology, biodiversity, nature conservation, culture and outdoor events.
Once phase one is done, the council expects funding to be released for phase two, along the Marina and east of Atlantic Pond, to create a marshland play area, a children’s water play area with a large interactive water feature which can be turned on or off, as well as hardcourt tennis, football, and basketball courts.
This area will feature an adventure play area with a tree-top walk, high ropes, and a BMX track through woods east of the pond area, which will be developed as a picnic zone. It is hoped to provide additional boating facilities along the Marina in the park’s sports zone, which will be dominated by the GAA stadium. The area south of the stadium will be able to host outdoor events of up to 1,800 people.
The park will have two main access routes — the tree-lined Marina, and the former Cork, Blackrock, and Passage West railway line, which will be widened, with improved public lighting.
Jogging tracks are being considered, and walkways planned .