Friday 20 April 2018

Construction begins on long-awaited €73m entertainment centre in Cork

Project to rival Dublin's 3Arena and Belfast's Odyssey Arena

South Main Street concert venue
South Main Street concert venue
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

CONSTRUCTION of the long-delayed €73m Cork events centre, which will prove a combination of Dublin's 3Arena and the Bord Gais Energy Centre, will begin from September.

BAM Ireland, the complex developers, confirmed last night that the funding issues which have stalled the project for over two years are now virtually resolved.

"The funding gap, both private and public, has almost closed and we are confident funding will be available to progress the project," a BAM spokesperson confirmed.

"We expect construction to be able to start during quarter four of this year."

"We have already begun construction on student accommodation on the site."

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said last February he was hopeful construction work would begin next autumn on the complex which is set to cost €23m more than expected.

Mr Coveney insisted that the two year delay on the project since then Taoiseach Enda Kenny turned the sod was necessary to ensure the complex is viable and capable of adapting to every possible entertainment and convention booking.

The €73m Cork events centre is set to cost the State €23m more than first anticipated with both the developers, BAM, and the operators, LiveNation also committing more funding to the revised design.

The development is aimed at giving Cork a complex to rival Dublin’s 3Arena and Belfast’s Odyssey centre but its high-tech electronically deployed seating will also offer the complex the greatest flexibility of any events centre in Ireland or the UK.

"This is absolutely vital to ensure the future viability of the centre," Mr Coveney said.

"LiveNation were very clear about this - they were not going to push ahead until they had all their costings and the operational analysis of the centre completed."

Mr Coveney said that many such entertainment centres have cost overruns during construction - the difference with the Cork centre was it was so carefully assessed its revised costings were all front-loaded.

The Government had committed to back the project on the old Beamish & Crawford brewery site to the tune of €20m.

However, at least a further €20m was then required.

An outline deal has been reached between the Government, BAM and LiveNation though Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe has to sign-off on the final costings for the State.

In February 2017, the Government was briefed on the need for extra support for the troubled project but it was thought an additional €10m to €12m would resolve the impasse.

However, a further €6m - bringing to a minimum of €18m in additional supports - was now required.

The total cost of State support for the convention centre could reach €38m to €40m.

Mr Coveney, a staunch backer of the project, said the delays were inevitable to ensure the State was getting value for money.

He predicted that the new complex will offer a combination of the advantages of the 3Arena and the Bord Gais Energy centre - and help transform the entertainment facilities in the south west.

Cork has for over a decade been campaigning for assets to boost its profile as a convention destination.

Heineken and BAM won the right to the events centre over a rival bid by the late Owen O’Callaghan in 2014.

It was hoped that major construction would begin in 2015 but nothing beyond demolition work and archaeological assessment work has since taken place.

Former Taoiseach Enda Kenny turned the sod on the events centre in February 2016 during the general election campaign but no major construction work has taken place since.

BAM chief executive Theo Cullinane briefed Cork City Council on the project status last year amid growing disquiet over ongoing delays.

The archaeological assessment has taken time because the site involved ranks as one of the oldest parts of Cork city centre with brewing activity dating back to medieval times.

The South Main Street site is also adjacent to the former city walls and a former fort-prison from which executed prisoner’s heads were displayed in the 17th Century.

The project initially featured €20m in promised public funding from the Government and Cork City Council.

It is the centrepiece of major investment projects in Cork which include the €60m One Albert Quay office complex, the €3m facelift for Kent railway station, the €70m revamp of Pairc Ui Chaoimh GAA stadium, the Irish Independent rugby stadium revamp, the €50m Capitol retail complex and the €90m Navigation Square office complex.

Live Nation will operate the 6,000 seat venue which will be able to handle major international conferences as well as sporting, music and trade events.

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