IT’S FIVE years on from the turning of the sod on Cork’s infamous events centre and, while some are still holding out hope that the project will be delivered, others believe it to be “dead in the water”.
Beset for numerous reasons over the years, it looked as if the project had cleared its final hurdle last year following the withdrawal of a legal challenge — and then the global pandemic took hold.
Despite the challenges Covid-19 has posed to the global live entertainment industry, Cork City Council has said engagement was ongoing between the key parties involved in the 6,000-seater events centre, which is to be built on the site of the former Beamish & Crawford brewery on South Main Street.
“BAM, Live Nation Gaiety (LNG) and Cork City Council are continuing to meet on the Cork Events Centre and all parties including the Government of Ireland recently re-affirmed their commitment to deliver this project.
“At present, roadmaps aren’t in place for the reopening of the global live entertainment industry as we continue to live with Covid-19.
“Despite this uncertainty, the parties continue to progress the project.
“All parties are intent on bringing the funding agreement (which dictates the terms on which government support is granted) to as close a point as possible to where it can be signed off once revenue streams are restored in the events industry,” the council stated.
However, some remain sceptical. Speaking to The Echo, Independent Cork City councillor Ken O’Flynn expressed serious doubts about the future of the project.
“I think the dogs on the street know that this plan has been dead in the water for a very long time.
“It’s about time people faced reality. It’s too expensive, it’s not going to happen in the next two years at least,” he said.
Mr O’Flynn said he has had problems with the project from the outset.
“I think the site was wrong first day. I’ve had problems with this entire development from day one.
“I think a 5,000 seater could be developed in the Docklands for a 10th of the price of what it’s costing. It might not be all-singing, all-dancing, but it would still serve the same purpose,” he said.
It was two
weeks before the general election in February 2016 that the then taoiseach Enda Kenny and tánaiste Joan Burton visited Cork to participate in a staged turning of the sod on the events centre site.
The stalled project has led some to brand the latter as nothing more than a pre-election stunt to secure votes — a sentiment that Fine Gael Cork City councillor Shane O’Callaghan utterly rejected.
“I’d totally reject the suggestion that it was a pre-election stunt.
“There was huge commitment by the 2011-2016 government and by the 2016-2020 government to ensure that it was built.
“Particularly, minister Simon Coveney was very much determined to ensure that it became a reality.
“Due to circumstances beyond everyone’s control in terms of the costs involved, it wasn’t [built].
“I know first-hand the commitment that minister Simon Coveney had and still has towards it and I have no doubt that it will become a reality at some point in the near future,” he said.
Party colleague and Cork City councillor Des Cahill agreed, saying the sod turning was “done in good faith”.
However, with the amount of time passed, Mr Cahill is uncertain about whether the ambitious plans will become a reality.
“Will it get built there? I’d like to think so — the need is definitely still there — but I wouldn’t bet my house on it,” he said.
Meanwhile, Independent councillor and former Cork lord mayor Mick Finn noted that, while five years marks “another dubious milestone” for the project, he still hopes that it will be delivered.
“I had hoped to progress the process during my time as lord mayor but, while we took two steps forward, that step back always made sure it was always beyond reach.
“The current Covid climate has decimated the worldwide entertainment industry, so I’d imagine the project remains on the back burner,” he said.
Mr Finn said he intended to keep the project on the council agenda.
“I hope to keep it on the council agenda and will seek regular updates as the need for this centre becomes even more pronounced post-Covid.
“The central pillars of planning and funding, as well as the will of all parties, remain in place.
“Perhaps a Cork taoiseach can do what a Cork tánaiste could not and get it done,” he told The Echo.
Cork Chamber chief executive Conor Healy said he also remained optimistic about the project.
“I am optimistic with regard to the future of the events centre. Clearly it’s been hit by lots of challenges along the way. Despite those challenges, I think the key pillars are still in place in terms of the project moving forward.
“Government’s funding commitment remains in place. There continues to be a strong commitment from Cork City Council to make it happen.
“If we’ve learned anything over the last 12 months, it’s how much everyone values the opportunity to engage in terms of events, entertainment and so on, and as that sector returns, I think the demand will continue to grow for such infrastructure in Cork,” he said.
“Most importantly both the developer, BAM, and the operators, Live Nation, they are continuing to engage and to discuss the project.
“I think some additional time is needed for the project — as we hopefully come out over the next number of months of the worst of the pandemic — to allow time for the developer and the operator to evaluate and put their plans in place and hopefully set out a fresh timeframe for the project in terms of moving it on to a construction phase,” Mr Healy added.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin told The Echo that Covid had slowed progress on many projects but added: “The Government remains committed to it [the events centre]. Funding is in place.”