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I have been monitoring the proposals for a conference centre in Cork City. This is a great opportunity, if we look at the greater scheme of things.
Cork is a small city and any conference held there will compete for the local city, county and Munster markets, then the Irish market, which would be more centred in Dublin, and, lastly, the international market.
The last thing we need is another white elephant. With the Cork County GAA Board hoping to rebuild Phairc Ui Chaoimh and the prospect of Ireland hosting the 2023 Rugby World Cup, there is an opportunity to combine these projects and build a facility of international standard in Cork.
For the 2011 Rugby World Cup, Otago, in New Zealand, built a multi-purpose stadium with a closed roof and transparent cover to allow grass to grow. This stadium can be used for many sports and for concerts and conferences.
The smaller number of high attendance matches in Cork would make the cost of a large stadium prohibitive. Many stadiums in Munster are struggling to pay off their costs. Combining the costs would make it viable.
While it would need the GAA to provide top matches, in the short term, due to commercial agreements the FAI and IRFU have in place, full ownership of the Aviva will return to the IRFU in a little over 10 years. This means the FAI will need to make new provisions for their own matches.
As it is, Munster Rugby would need to move their bigger matches to Dublin, or else embark on another expensive rebuilding programme to increase Thomond Park or Musgrave Park. Imagine being able to host the Munster hurling final, Munster’s cup matches, and Irish international football in the same place, while also using it for other activities.
This would mean that the competing developers, sporting organisations and local councils would need to be brought together with a viable plan. I suggest building a combined area/conference centre and car parking area in Horgan’s quay. It is next to the train station and a short walk to the city centre.
It would be on the north quay, so should get ample sunlight year round to maintain the grass. Páirc Ui Chaoimh’s location makes access in and out very difficult. Granted, there would still be problems on match day, but surely the public transport system can be utilised to get people in and out.
This would allow the GAA to develop the stadium surrounds into their preferred training and administrative area and parkland, without the disruption typical of matches.
Most match day traffic passes through the city centre as it is, anyway. There are plenty of excellent club grounds more then capable of holding county club games, while the larger, final stages could be played in the new stadium.
There is no need to open a 45,000-capacity stadium just for a few thousand, when that could be played in Páirc Ui Ring.
Now, I have no insight into the commercial and planning consequences of the above plan, but I think that something like this needs to be looked at for the long-term viability of any conference or sporting arena built in Cork.
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