TÁNAISTE Simon Coveney and developers BAM have said the way is almost clear for construction works to finally begin on Cork’s events centre, but scepticism remains over the project timeline and opposition politicians are calling for clarity on the details of any new deal.
The sod was turned on the long-awaited events centre two years ago today, but the project has yet to get off the ground, with developer BAM seeking an extra €18m of public money on top of the €20m already pledged.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney said today that there has been a breakthrough in the standoff over public funds for the project and a deal has almost been reached that would allow works to start.
The Government has also confirmed that the events centre will be included in Friday’s announcement of the 10-year National Development Plan, which will include a “suite of measures for Cork.”
The events centre breakthrough follows fresh talks called by the Tánaiste early in the new year and follow-up talks in central government.
Mr Coveney said: “I have been working on the event centre for more than four years because it is an important piece of infrastructure for Cork. I know the timeline has frustrated people but I have never allowed the project to slip into being forgotten and I know it is going to be worth waiting for.
“All the parties involved now agree on a financial way forward and BAM, Live Nation and the government are all in the process of approving that financial ask from their ends. Realistically that needs to happen over the coming two-weeks. I’m confident it will.”
In a statement, BAM boss Theo Cullinane said he has been engaged in a series of meetings, in recent weeks with Mr Coveney, Live Nation, and Cork City Council, and that significant progress has been made.
“Both BAM and Live Nation have worked together to increase the available funding and reduce costs,” he said. “These initiatives, together with the public funding, make it very likely that the project can now proceed.”
The new funding deal is expected to include extra funding from the State, BAM and Live Nation plus a commitment by the State to improve infrastructure around the site.
Opposition politicians have said the full details of any new deal need to be made public. Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin described the sod-turning two years ago at the event centre site on South Main Street as a ‘cynical political promise’.
“Those who dug the sod knew it wasn’t going to happen quickly,” Mr Martin said. “I welcome the news of a final deal but this shows that the original plan hasn’t cut the mustard and those involved knew that.
“Now we are looking at a new deal with new planning, this will be the third iteration of this project. I am glad to see an agreement and I think the City Council have been very patient about this but it has dragged on far too long.
“Hopefully they won’t have to go back to the table again. I look forward to getting full details of the deal and a more concrete timeline.”
Solidarity TD Mick Barry said this morning that big business interests appear to have successfully held the Government and the city to ransom over the event centre issue.
“The taxpayer will now be covering half the cost of an event centre which will be owned and controlled by private interests,” Mr Barry said.
Labour Party Representative Peter Horgan has called for a publicly accessible meeting of Cork City Council to be convened on the matter.
“If the stakeholders involved abandoned their culture of secrecy on this project, it would go a long way to restoring confidence in the taxpayers’ mind,” said Mr Horgan.
“If a deal has been done, then the public need to know the nuts and bolts of such a deal. The people of Cork need this to happen but not at any cost or at the cost of democratic accountability. The stakeholders must realise it is the public’s money financing this.”
Sinn Féin councillor Chris O’Leary, who was mayor at the time of the sod turning, also described the original sod-turning as ‘electioneering’ and said his party is very concerned about attempts to change the planning.
“BAM are the developer, they lobbied prior to getting the final outcome, they sold us all the good things that would happen and how experienced they were. I think there is an onus on them now to put it up or move aside and let somebody else do it.”
Lord Mayor Tony Fitzgerald said the most important thing is a successful outcome “that would benefit the city and the region in the long term, with a view to huge economic and social benefits to the city where our retail, tourism and hospitality sector will gain.”
New Cork Business Association President Philip Gillivan reiterated support for the project.
“I know everyone is weary and tired of talking about it, but everyone is still at the table, if they weren’t there I would be worried,” he said.
“I think it will give Cork such a psychological lift when it happens. I think getting it over the line will be a matter of weeks rather than months. I am a firm believer that it will happen and I think it will be a great day for Cork.”