THE chief executive of Cork City Council has moved to ease fears that the city’s long-awaited event centre project is crumbling, amid increasing calls to go back to the drawing board.
Ann Doherty, the most senior official in City Hall, said the local authority remains steadfastly committed to the project, describing it as a 'critical' piece of the city's infrastructure.
Ms Doherty said the local authority is continuing to work with developers and the Department of Arts to confirm the details of the funding application and would not be thrown off course by calls to scrap the existing deal and re-tender the entire project.
Her comments come after it emerged that developers BAM are seeking an additional €18m in State funding to cover the costs of developing the centre on South Main Street.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin described the request for €18m - on top of €20m already pledged - as 'shocking' and said it casts doubts over the entire design and tendering process.
The State had already committed €20 million to the project two years ago.
In February, BAM revealed that the complex project needed an additional €12 million in funding to get it over the line, with this latest figure including an extra €6 million in contingency funds.
Some fifteen months on from the initial sod turning by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Mr Martin said: "This new request for €18 million, including an additional €6 million for contingency spending, is shocking and raises questions about the tendering and design process that developed the original budgets.
"I would have thought that the contract between BAM Ireland and Cork City Council would have identified such gaps in costs to ensure that the project would go ahead and that the state would not be further exposed."
Mr Martin also criticised the sod turning, which took place just three weeks before last year's general election.
“Let’s call a spade a spade: the Taoiseach turned the sod three weeks before the General Election in 2016 and it was nothing more than an opportunistic political stunt, and this latest request for funding demonstrates that," he said.
In February, BAM met with Cork City Council, outlining their plans to start construction by September.
Mr Martin has questioned whether this date is realistic.
"Unfortunately we are, in many respects, as far away from a world class event centre in Cork as we were two years ago," he said.
"Cork needs a facility of this nature to let it compete with Dublin for major conferencing events. Not only will it attract visitors to the city’s hotels, it will also provide an economic stimulus to other attractions and businesses."
Doubts are growing at local level, too.
Independent city councillor Mick Finn said he is 'losing patience with BAM.'
Mr Finn called on the government to refuse to cover the contingency fund.
He said, "The government should contribute a further €12m and €12m only for this project. If a group like BAM cannot cover contingencies, it should not be doing this project."
Cork City Council has submitted the company’s request for extra funds and an economic evaluation report to the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. It will then be sent to the Department of Public Expenditure for a decision.
BAM did not respond to the Evening Echo when contacted for comment.