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Cork GAA’s €23m Páirc Uí Chaoimh debt to be lessened by land sale

A 20-acre landbank on the northside of Cork city holds the key to paying off the €23m debt Cork GAA is left with following the redevelopment of Páirc Ui Chaoimh, writes Tony Leen.

The final bill for the redevelopment of the stadium in Cork will now run over €86m, Cork County Board chairman Ger Lane confirmed yesterday to the Irish Examiner. That’s more than €16m above the estimated cost when contractors were appointed to the project just over two years ago.

The board’s annual report is due this week, but in response to a series of questions from Examiner Sport, the county board chairman has confirmed that, at present, Cork GAA is looking at a €23m shortfall for the project. However, the situation is far from bleak, Ger Lane insisted.

He revealed the board has succeeded in having 21 acres of a 37-acre landbank at Kilbarry, adjacent to Delanys GAA club on the north side of Cork city, rezoned in recent months from light industrial to development. It will go on the market in the new year, with property experts last night suggesting the rezone could be worth anywhere between €15m and €20m to the board.

It is estimated upwards of 250 housing units could be built on the 21 acres that is developable. Mr Lane declined to say what they would do with the remaining 16 acres, but confirmed: “The sale of these lands formed part of the business plan for the funding of the stadium which was submitted to Government and the EU. This is a major boost to have it rezoned for housing which will increase its value greatly.”

Mr Lane declined to specify the potential number of houses at Kilbarry, but said that the board was putting the land on the market “at a very good time”. In addition to the Kilbarry boost, the county board chairman confirmed yesterday that the executive is to rethink its premium ticket sales strategy for Páirc Ui Chaoimh, having sold 700 of the 2,000 10-year packages at €6,500 each. He said it was likely the premium tickets would be re-packaged over three and five years, with proportionate pricing decreases.

“We may have pitched the price and term a little too high, misjudging the market,” he admitted yesterday. “I think we expected people to buy tickets on the basis of the concept rather than a finished product, which is now the case. The Priority Ticket scheme will be re-marketed with new payment options over three and five-year terms and we are expecting to see a lot more interest at that stage.”

The Cork GAA chair, who steps down from his position next weekend after completing his three-year term, set out the final figures for Páirc Ui Chaoimh and the repayment plan on same. He said: “The final cost on Páirc Ui Chaoimh we are now estimating, will be €86.4m.”

He said key cost overrun factors and variations were the choice of LED floodlighting — the steering committee was convinced of its merits by a trip to Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge stadium — additional terrace and 4G pitch piling, and turnstiles upgrades. He said a review of all these claims and variations is being undertaken by auditors Ernst & Young, and by their quantity surveyors, with final figures available upon completion of that analysis.

State funding for the Páirc amounted to €30m, Croke Park added €20m and the Cork County Board had savings of €10m itself. The Munster Council provided an additional €3.75m to account for the €63.75m of guaranteed funding — of which around €56m has been drawn down. The state has advanced €23m of its €30m with the remaining €7m to be paid in two phases — one payment of €5.5m being “imminent”, according to the GAA chairman, the remainder due towards the middle of next year, when triggered by a completion clause.

“The remaining bill is around €23m and with the landbank at Kilbarry, the premium tickets, 2018 concerts, and the naming rights of the stadium, we are very comfortable with the financial position we are in,” said Mr Lane. “We have built this stadium for €86m and we are hopefully within two years of having the whole thing cleared.”

He admitted that the shortfall in premium ticket sales had necessitated an additional €19m loan taken out in conjunction with Croke Park to complete the project.

“The €7m payment from Government will be paid shortly and we are confident the remaining amounts will be paid off by the sale of Kilbarry land and an uptake of the premium tickets. As more people are engaging with the stadium by attending games and using the facilities, the full range of what a premium ticket offers is better understood. It is heavily booked for this month and looking forward, we also expect a better financial return from events such as the Ed Sheeran concerts next May, from franchising and other events. The €19m is a bridging facility that we have well and truly under control.”

He insisted: “We have no financial worries. The bridging finance on the stadium is at a tremendously attractive rate and all the other elements I have mentioned put us on a very sound financial footing going forward.”

The chairman also stressed that there will be no impact on inter-county teams or coaching as a result of the cost overrun on the stadium. It has also emerged that the cost of preparing Cork’s inter-county teams in 2017 rose to a whopping €1.7m, a record.

“I have stated on a number of occasions that the new Páirc Ui Chaoimh would be a standalone project, professionally run and structured. Cork County Board spends, pro rata, more on its teams and on the promotion of Gaelic games than any other county. The old chestnut of the Cork County Board not supporting its games and teams properly, or of the stadium sucking funding out of team development, is pretty tiresome at this stage. It has no basis in fact.

“Our teams are very well looked after and our players acknowledge this. Those saying otherwise are being mischievous.”

This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.