Local councillors have vowed to fight the decision by Wexford County Council to abandon plans to turn Gorey's Market House into a top quality music and entertainment venue.
Wexford County Council confirmed last week that the sole eligible proposal for the redevelopment of the Market House was assessed and rejected as it 'did not demonstrate a sufficient level of public benefit to support the public investment it required.'
Councillors were informed of the decision at a private meeting last week, but district cathaoirleach Cllr Joe Sullivan said that all have unanimously agreed not to accept this latest development.
'The elected representatives are, under no circumstances, accepting this as a done deal. We've had absolutely no input, or been invited to do so, in the making of this decision, and we were only made aware of it last week,' said Cllr Sullivan.
'We were asked to discuss another proposal from the council, but we're not engaging with any other process until we exhaust our negotiation with the Redmond brothers.
'We, as the elected representatives, are still convinced that the executive and the investor working together must do a deal,' said Cllr Sullivan.
It's understood that the sole eligible contract application came from Gorey's Redmond Brothers Construction and was analysed by KPMG.
The proposal was for a 1,400 seater venue that could attract artists from Ireland and beyond and it would also have a display space to host art exhibitions which could be used by the whole community. The proposal included a seven-day licence that would be used year-round to operate a restaurant and bar, and it would allow the council to have use of the venue 100 nights a year.
When contacted, Paddy Redmond of Redmond Construction said he was not in a position to comment at this time so as not to interfere with the council's processes.
In a statement to this newspaper, a spokesperson for the council said: 'Wexford County Council recently advertised for expressions of interest and proposals from investors for the re-development of the Market House in Gorey in partnership with the Local Authority.
'One eligible proposal was received and duly assessed. That proposal did not demonstrate a sufficient level of public benefit to support the public investment it required. No award of contract has therefore been made and the competition has now closed'.
It's expected that the council will now revert to plans last discussed in April 2019, which were originally drawn up under Public Realm in 2012 and propose restoring the Market House building and adjoining vacant lands to the rear.
When this plan was last discussed in April 2019, Cllr Anthony Donohoe was the only councillor to vote down the plans, after €429,145 was made available as part of the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund.
With more than €2 million set aside towards the Market House's construction costs, the project's aim was to restore the prominence of the Market House as a focal point on Gorey's Main Street and to further develop its relationship with the commercial life and public realm of the town.
More than 1,500 signatures were gathered on a petition to 'save the Market House project' in May 2019 and two months later, councillors asked the council to re-examine options for the development of a multi-functional performance venue at the site.
Cllr Sullivan said that the vision of the Redmonds can be delivered with goodwill and hard work.
'I speak on behalf of the ten elected representatives with one voice, and that vision is all we'll be accepting,' he said. 'We may be some 40 kilometres removed from the wheels and levers of power, but we are not taking these unilateral decisions lying down and we're going to resist and fight on behalf of the people for something we believe in,' he said.
Cllr Anthony Donohoe described the level of ambition under the Public Realm project as 'zero'.
'I'm extremely disappointed that the council could not find a middle ground with the proposed investors, and I completely disagree with the assessment,' said Cllr Donohoe. 'The public benefit would have been for all the businesses in Gorey, and it's very disheartening that the council can't see fit to invest in this project and to miss a huge opportunity for such a magnificent project for Gorey's Main Street which would have had a huge economic upturn for north Wexford. The Public Realm plan doesn't measure up anywhere near it.
'What we're going to be left with after it's done is the Market House brought back to its former glory, which would have been done anyway with the proposed investors, but we won't have a 1,500 seater auditorium out the back, we'll have a garden which we don't need.
'When Covid-19 restrictions lift, people are going to want to go back to venues, concerts and go for a meal and a few pints on a Friday night so this is just a massive loss,' said Cllr Donohoe.
Cllr Diarmuid Devereux described the latest news as a 'bombshell'.
'Economically, this is a huge smack in the face to Gorey and I just think it's appalling. The project had the potential to generate millions of euros within Gorey and create sustainable jobs,' he said. 'The Gorey economy depends on retail, agriculture and education, and this was the opportunity to expand into the area of conferences and events. We already have four hotels and it would have kept them alive or even enabled the building of another hotel. It's the biggest economic blow to Gorey in years.'
Cllr Devereux said that he felt Gorey was being left behind, adding that he had lost faith in the council's county development plan.
'There was no prior consultation or communication on this and all of the councillors were shocked and, frankly, disgusted.
'Whatever is done in that centre point of the town, it has to have a commercial aspect to it to attract people into the town and stand on its own two feet by paying for itself.
'We were told that the conclusion came after expert internal analysis but we haven't been given any access to that. We don't know what that says and we don't have the evidence, when we should be entitled to that information,' said Cllr Devereux.
'When you look at the town park and Courtown woods, the only way I could describe it is that communications between elected representatives and the council is at an all time low. Wexford County Council has got to stop refusing to communicate with us, and ignoring the wishes of the people of north Wexford.
'The council will encourage the construction of up to a thousand houses in the area over the next five to seven years, but the question is where are these people going to work and socialise?' he asked.
Cllr Fionntán O Suilleabháin said that the Market House is important to Gorey's past and future.
'Councillors are all united in seeing this transformative project move forward as planned. We know it will have a massive positive spin-off for North Wexford - economically, socially and culturally, with plans to display important aspects of our local heritage in the historic chamber room.
'We simply cannot allow any backtracking and allow this project to be derailed now. Its time to make a stand,' said Cllr Ó Suilleabháin.
Councillors have requested a meeting with the Wexford County Council CEO Tom Enright and have asked to be provided with the full assessment report made by KPMG.
'The only losers here are the people of Wexford.' So said Harry Crosbie after learning of Wexford County Council's decision to reject a plan to turn the Market House in Gorey into a music and entertainment venue.
It was Mr Crosbie who came up with the original idea to turn the venue into 'Vicar Street South' but, although he had submitted a proposal at the same time as the Redmonds, his was not the preferred application. Nonetheless, he is shocked by the council's decision.
'It was a brilliant idea and remains a brilliant idea, it would have been a huge attraction for the south east. Vicar Street is one of the great venues in the British Isles and there was a full team ready to deliver a world class mini-arena which would have brought huge business to the area.
'I am bitterly disappointed and surprised that it did not go ahead, and that such a brilliant concept was allowed slip away. Three years of my life I've spent on this, and during that time I picked the brains of every expert at the top of the concert industry - all wasted.
'Now that the pandemic is coming to an end, every forecast we had would have been smashed because there's going to be such a desire for live music.
'In my opinion it was lack of vision that caused the loss of the project,' he said.