Coveney: Centre not in danger of being a non-event

The developers of Cork's long-awaited events centre have asked the Government for even more money to deliver the now-stalled project. But will they get the €18m they are requesting? Kelly O'Brien reports. 
Coveney: Centre not in danger of being a non-event
An artists impression of the proposed events centre on the former Beamish and Crawford site.   

THE Government is prepared to commit more public funds to bring Cork’s long-awaited events centre to fruition — but not as much as the developers are now asking for.

Minister for Planning, Simon Coveney, made the remarks this week when asked about the current status of the stalled 6,000-seat development.

At the moment the Government is currently assessing the latest ask from developers BAM and operators Live Nation who have asked for an extra €18m in state monies — almost double what had initially been ringfenced for the project.

“I think this project will happen. There’s a big increased ask coming from BAM and Live Nation to reflect the increased cost that they see as part of the project,” said Minister Coveney.

“It’s not a simple €18m ask though. It’s a €12m ask, and they are also looking for a €6m contingency fund should other things change. I don’t think they’ll get all of that money, but I don’t know for sure.”

The Cork South Central representative said that whenever any project which is part publicly funded, is asking for more funds, that request must be subjected to a high level of scrutiny.

This does mean, however, an even longer delay on what has already been a long-stalled project — the sod was turned on the site more than a year ago now, and little on-site work has taken place.

“Obviously we have to go through a process of making sure that if there is an increased amount of money coming from the State, that that has been tested in terms of value for money, and that’s what’s going on at the moment in the Department of Arts and in the Department of Public Expenditure,” explained Minister Coveney.

“It’s a priority project for the Government and for Cork. I believe we will make it happen, but I think there needs to be sort of a robust process now to make sure that we’re maximising the financial value the State gets from its investment.”

Minister Coveney said there is an understandable level of frustration, both publicly and politically, about the issues. Indeed, he also expressed frustration about the situation.

“This is frustrating because it’s gone on for a long time, but don’t forget how many false dawns we’ve had on event centres in Cork. There was to be one in Mahon and it didn’t happen. There was to be one in the Docklands and it didn’t happen. There was to be one in Horgan’s Quay, it didn’t happen,” he said.

“When I hear some of the political commentary, which is understandable because it’s coming from the impatience that people want to see this actually being built, I can understand that, but people need to show a little bit of patience here. This is a big, big project and there’s a lot of public money going into it. It will happen.”

“I’m committed to it, Pascal Donoghue is committed to it, the Government is committed to it. But we just need to make sure we’re not spending money we don’t need to spend and that everything that’s being put to us stacks up fully. And that’s the normal sort of process that you go through with a contractor when the State is contributing significantly to a project.”

Reiterating his commitment to the project, the minister said that, considering the amount of work and funding that has gone into the project to date, that it is not one that any of the key stakeholders could walk away from.

“BAM has already spent €7m on this project and they haven’t gotten a penny back from it yet so they are deeply committed to it. Live Nation have gotten approval from their board to spend €30m of their private money on this project. So they are deeply committed to it too. The State has already committed €20m for this project,” he said.

“We will commit more money, the question is how much more, and to ensure that, with that increased ask, we go through a process that allows me and others to be able to sit in front of an Oireactas committee or in front of a journalist and to be able to say, this is public money we’re spending, but we have ensured that it is representing full value for money.”

Minister Coveney said that, despite the delays, once the events centre is delivered, it will be the start of “something very special” for Cork.

“This will be one of the most significant pieces of infrastructure that Cork has ever built,” he said.

“It has had a difficult birth because it has taken a long time, but the State has delivered each time there has been an ask. This started off at €12m, then it was €20m, then there was a competitive process for that money, BAM won that competitive process, they purchased the site... so no one is walking away from this.”

The Minister stressed that the public will not have much longer to wait before an announcement would be made — the Department of Arts is assessing the increased funding request before a final decision will be issued by the Department of Public Expediture.

“We are very much at the final stages of it now. I know I’ve been saying that for some time, but that was before we got this increased ask,” said Minister Coveney.

“I think the Government has delivered everything that has been asked of it to date. The project has, unfortunately, become an awful lot more complex, but that’s because it’s going to be such a huge project. bigger than what was previously envisaged. But I think we’re getting there now and I’d be hopeful that the Government will be able to finalise the cost of this with BAM and Live Nation in the not too distant future and we will finally see the thing actually taking shape on site.”

The developers of Cork’s long-awaited events centre have asked the Government for even more money to deliver the now-stalled project. But will they get the €18m they are requesting? Kelly O’Brien reports.

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