Spiralling costs cast a long shadow over the Páirc

Spiralling costs cast a long shadow over the Páirc
Fans arrive for a game at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

AT a county board meeting three years ago, one delegate stood up and asked the executive what the final costs of the redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh were likely to be.

At the time, the projected figure was running at €78m, which was a considerable increase from the initial figure of between €40m and €60m.

Yet after the costs had spiralled from a figure of €67m to €78m, the delegate felt that his club were entitled to an explanation of where the finishing point was likely to be.

That figure of €78m, which had been leaked ahead of that county board meeting, sounded like the final word but the delegate asked the executive if it might be. “Is this a lump sum,” he asked “or there is a possibility that it might be more?”

The delegate also requested that delegates be allowed to go back to their clubs to discuss the issue.

When he was asked by a member of the executive to clarify his question, the delegate did: “Well, could this go to €80 million or beyond?”

The executive of that time refused the idea of going back to the clubs to debate the matter. The notion expressed on the night was that “it would be a sad state of affairs if the costs went above €80 million”.

It’s a very sad state of affairs in Cork now given that the overrun cost of the new stadium is approaching €110m. Cork chairperson Tracey Kennedy insisted at Saturday’s county convention that the cost was €86.5m before confirming that a statement would be announced last night following a meeting of Staid Cois Laoi to clarify all outstanding matters.

Whatever the case, there is a colossal amount of debt to be cleared.

Only 12 months ago, the then Cork chairperson put the final bill for the redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh at €86.5 million. That seemed manageable given that the County Board had estimated funds of €64m, along with additional income expected from other sources.

The debt was put at €23m, while it was said that there were “no financial worries”. There was also an expressed confidence of being hopefully debt free within two years.

With the figure of €110 million hanging over the county like a pall of dead air, is it safe to assume that the debt has risen accordingly to €47m? Either way, the figures have changed alarmingly and have put a totally different shade of grey on the shiny new Páirc.

Anyone who has been around the new stadium in recent months could sense what was going on.

Kennedy insisted otherwise on Saturday but since there has been an outside presence in the stadium during that time, it’s hard to see it any other way than that Croke Park are now running Pairc Ui Chaoimh.

“In order to stem the debt or put a shape to it, we needed an experienced management team involved,” said Peter McKenna, Croke Park’s stadium director last week.

“I think if it wasn’t an aligned set-up, you’d be talking about a receivership or something like that. The ability to pay that amount of money back wasn’t there, but that’s not how we operate as an organisation.”

McKenna seconded Tom Grealis to take over the stadium as temporary manager but Croke Park have had experienced people in Páirc Ui Chaoimh for a time now to take hold of the asset.

That management team have put a budget together for next year and a strategic plan together for the next three years. Yet McKenna accepted that solving Cork’s GAA financial issues is a “10 to 15-year set-up”.

That reality raises legitimate questions of what decisions the County Board will be free to take in that time without Croke Park’s oversight.

A full house for the Cork convention last weekend. Picture: Jim Coughlan
A full house for the Cork convention last weekend. Picture: Jim Coughlan

Cost overruns are no great surprise with a large-scale stadium redevelopment but this still does not reflect well on the county board executive. With €30m of taxpayers’ money invested in the redevelopment, the Public Accounts Committee are likely to be interested in the exact reasons for the escalation of costs.

The new stadium management team will go about their business but the huge extent of the repayment has still put a psychological burden on the Cork GAA public.

The additional money has to come from somewhere. This time last year, there was mention of a potential sale of land on the north side of the city offsetting stadium costs, with the land valued, perhaps optimistically, at €15m to €20m.

Any sale would help pay off the stadium debt but that deprives the board of the opportunity to develop a long-term asset like a centre of excellence on that land.

Even if €15m was shaved off the debt, the projected monthly repayments could be as high as €600,000 over 30 years. McKenna dismissed concerns that Cork GAA would have to consult Croke Park on matters of team costs and expenses going forward.

Kennedy also insisted on Saturday that there are “no plans” to levy Cork clubs in relation to the stadium debt.

The debt needed to be untangled from the county board accounts but the sheer scale of the repayments is still a concern before sliotars and footballs are even bought.

The new Páirc Uí Chaoimh is a fantastic stadium and Cork people are rightly proud of the place.

Its new offices will soon house incoming secretary Kevin O’Donovan and a more progressive executive.

Yet the shine will be long gone off the Páirc by the time it is paid off.

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