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Council refuses to provide new estimate for Cork events centre

Cork City Council says the estimate for the cost of building a long-planned new multi-million euro events centre in the city has increased yet again, but is refusing to say by how much.

The Government has previously said it would give €57million in funding to the centre, which when opened will be owned and run by concert promotor Live Nation.

This week, the Council confirmed that more money will be needed to proceed with development.

In an interview for the Thursday 1 February edition of Prime Time the Cork City Council Chief Executive said it would not be appropriate to publicly state how much additional funding is need.

The cost to the State of funding the project has tripled since 2014.

In response to questions, City Council CEO Ann Doherty said “I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to discuss that with you tonight or today in the context that that is something that is subject to memo going to government and a government decision, there.”

A multi-purpose 6,000 capacity venue to host concerts and conferences is planned for a site lined by the River Lee close to the historic South Gate Bridge.

When the plans were first published in 2013 the estimate for the cost to the public purse was put at €20m. Since then, not a brick has been laid.

Funding and design are two stumbling blocks.

Cork City Council confirmed this week that a revised plan for the project submitted to the Government in December included a request for more money.

Government last agreed to grant aid for the build in 2021, putting €57m in the pot. At that point, the total build was put at €85m. The remaining €28m was to be covered by the private sector.

Prime Time has confirmed that the increase relates to a revised design of the facility, and an increase in building costs.

“There is an inflationary pressure which is across every building project, both public and private, since COVID, since the war in the Ukraine and that’s had an impact on prices,” Cork City Council’s Chief Executive Ann Doherty told Prime Time.

“So there is an ask for some support for that building inflation. And that ask is something that will have to be considered by government.”

When asked how much additional funding had been requested from central government, Ms Doherty said “I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to discuss that with you tonight or today in the context that that is something that is subject to memo going to government and a government decision.”

Concerns about the current proposal

The building is to be built by construction giant, BAM, and the state will then lease the land on which it is built to Live Nation, which will own the building.

The lengthy development process has concerned several political groupings in Cork.

Prime Time also spoke to Labour Party activist, Peter Horgan, who has received reams of documents related to the project through the Freedom of Information process, much of them heavily redacted.

Even the current public funding estimate of €57m, which is set to increase, concerns him.

“What are we getting for the €57m? If it is a €57m. If it goes above that, I think there needs to be a full explanation of why we’re putting so much public money into this private enterprise,” Mr Horgan said.

“We won’t have a say on the event centre after it opens. We won’t have a member on the board,” he added.

Mr Horgan is also critical of what he says is a lack of transparency about the project.

“We were nearly there in 2017. We were nearly there in 2019, and we were nearly there in 2020. We can’t nearly be there all the time and not arrive at our destination. We have to understand what exactly is holding it up.”

A series of specific questions put to Live Nation and BAM about the project were not answered.

In a statement Live Nation told Prime Time: “We continue to work closely with Cork City Council to ensure we run the best possible venue for the people of Cork and the wider region. We are excited that these plans are continuing to make progress.”

BAM said plans are on track and told Prime Time its “commitment to deliver a world-class, versatile venue to Cork remains absolute.”

Prime Time understands that Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien – who has overall responsibility for funding the project – is close to bringing a memo to Cabinet to ask for extra funding.

His officials are examining the documents submitted by Cork City Council in December.

The so-called ‘cost verification’ process is running the rule over the money which BAM and Live Nation say they need to make the project work.

One crucial question remains: what if the Government refuses to cough up the extra cash?

Asked about that possibility, Cork City Council’s CEO said “well, then the project will have to be relooked at in the context of where do we go?”

“I haven’t even really thought about that because to be honest with you, I believe that the case for the project to proceed far outweighs any risk that you’ve just described,” she added.

In 2019, when Prime Time previously covered the story, party whips on Cork City Council voted not to speak to the programme about the project. It was “at a critical stage” then, and it remains so.

Sinn Féin Councillor Mick Nugent says when it comes to finances related to the events centre the buck should stop with the Government.

“I don’t think it will be case for City Council stepping in,” he said. “I think now the cabinet, including senior ministers in Cork, need to make a call. Are they going to plug the remaining gap so we can see construction starting in the first quarter of this year?”

Councillors have been asking questions of the council executive about the project. In response to one question tabled at the end of 2023 by independent councillor, Mick Finn, the CEO told him that it is anticipated that construction will commence in Q1 of 2024.

However, a statement to Prime Time issued by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, commits to a slightly different timescale.

“It is expected a decision on funding of the Cork Events Centre could be made in Q1 of 2024,” the statement said.

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