OFFICIALS at City Hall were last night unable to give a start date for construction on the events centre.
Elected members had pressed the Council for specific details on the long-awaited project after it was yesterday confirmed that a deal has been struck in principle to bridge the funding gap.
It will see extra funds contributed by both the State and developer BAM and includes infrastructural works around the South Main St site.
However, the developer also has to seek new planning for the expanded 6,000-capacity centre, with council officials confirming that an application is expected ‘within weeks.’
Pat Ledwidge, deputy chief executive at Cork City Council, backed the project to commence soon but was unable to provide specifics regarding start-dates.
“I don’t know [when work will start],” he said.
“Approvals have to go to offices based outside Ireland, which slows down the process, but we are still confident it will come. BAM is currently in pre-planning and we expect a planning application within weeks. I understand the frustration but a considerable amount of progress has been made.”
Despite the confirmation that the additional funding requested by developers will be included in Friday’s National Planning Framework, many members were critical of the process and questioned the lack of transparency to date.
Yesterday marked two years since the sod was turned at the site, a move which has been heavily criticised since.
Fine Gael councillor John Buttimer said: “The issue that we have is that much of this has been going on behind closed doors. The lack of transparency and openness is a problem.”
Mr Buttimer called for BAM to be brought before Cork City Council to give a detailed update on the process again.
Solidarity’s Fiona Ryan went one step further, describing it as ‘embarrassing’ that some councillors found out about the development in the process through media reports.
Sinn Féin’s Chris O’Leary, who was Lord Mayor at the time of the sod-turning, criticised the developers for their approach to date.
He said: “At the start of this process, they told us they had the money to build this and, yet, all we are hearing is revised planning applications and funding requests. Pressure needs to be kept on.”
However, a number of other councillors dismissed concerns over funding and urged the city to press ahead.
Fianna Fáil’s Tim Brosnan said: “Billions are being spent on Luas lines in Dublin. More than €1 million is given to the Wexford Arts Festival every year. Enough is enough: this is the biggest opportunity we have.
“We have Live Nation on board, who can bring in the biggest acts in the world and transform Cork on the international stage musically. If we land this centre, it will be worth every penny.”
Independent Mick Finn stressed the long-term importance of the project. He said: “We have the operator on board, and that was the problem with the previous plans. It could quadruple our capacity for convention tourism, which is worth €11 million to the economy each year alone. This is the only show in town: if it goes, it could be 30 or 40 years before we are here again.”