Friday 28 November 2014

Builder and drinks firm in battle for events venue as tender process collapses

Published 17/08/2014 | 02:30

Cork based property developer Owen O'Callaghan. Photo: Tom Burke
Cork based property developer Owen O'Callaghan. Photo: Tom Burke

A bitter battle has erupted between property developer Owen O'Callaghan and BAM/Heineken Ireland over Cork's €50m concert venue, its answer to Dublin's O2 and Belfast's Odyssey Arena.

Tensions deepened after Cork City Council was last week forced to abandon a public tender process for the giant events centre amid fears any winning bid would not be legally valid.

The council confirmed via a posting on the EU tenders website that it was suspending a lengthy tender process for the new 7,000-seater venue. It will instead opt for a "direct negotiating process" with the two main interested parties, Mr O'Callaghan and BAM/Heineken Ireland.

Both have tabled rival bids for €16m in promised city council and National Lottery funding.

The proposals were ready to proceed to immediate construction, but the new process will delay the project by several months.

The process collapsed amid concerns that the tender system was not legally valid after US events centre operator, Live Nation, which runs Dublin's O2, withdrew from the two main bids.

Live Nation's withdrawal came after it voiced concerns over conditions applied by City Hall. It was feared that these conditions could have an impact on the future commercial operations of the proposed venue. Only one tender was submitted to the city council by the July 4 deadline, from BAM/Heineken. Mr O'Callaghan, who is leading the rival project, opted not to submit a tender amid concerns it would not be legally valid without having an events operator fully on board.

"We are not surprised at this outcome," Mr O'Callaghan told the Sunday Independent.

"The withdrawal of Live Nation, the proposed operator for both bidders, from the process some weeks ago ensured that the competitive process around public funding for the project could not be finalised."

However, the developer insisted that his firm was still very interested in providing a modern events centre for Cork.

"We will look carefully at the new process that is being put in place by the city council and assess whether it can form a realistic basis for the delivery of this important project for Cork," he said.

BAM/Heineken also said it remains committed to providing an events centre.

The drinks company's bid is focussed on the old Beamish & Crawford brewery site on South Main Street in the city centre. It argues that locating the venue on its site will help transform one of Cork's most ancient areas and enhance nearby attractions, including St Fin Barre's Cathedral, the Medieval city walls and the 18th Century English Market. The O'Callaghan project involves a site at Albert Quay.

The outline project has secured a promise of €10m in National Lottery funding and €6m in city council grants. More than 200 jobs hinge on the venue going ahead.

Sunday Independent

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