Tuesday 16 October 2018

Colm Keys: Páirc Uí Chaoimh’s financial overshoot amplifies extent of GAA’s infrastructural challenge

Analysis

An aerial view of Páirc Ui Chaoimh. Photo: Sportsfile
An aerial view of Páirc Ui Chaoimh. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The London mayor Sadiq Khan has done a deal with a local council to take over control of London Stadium, the venue for the 2012 Olympic Games and venue for West Ham United home games, among other events.

With the bill for conversion from an Olympic venue to one capable of meeting the requirement for Premiership soccer coming in at an astounding £750m (€852m), it triggered an independent review by a firm of accountants over how the financing overshot the original estimates for this work by £133m (€150m).

Boris Johnson, the previous London mayor and current UK foreign secretary, has been accused of "bungled decision-making" by Khan as the British taxpayer is left with a £20m (€23m) annual bill for the 66,000-seater stadium (right).

London Stadium went 21.55pc over its projected conversion cost, enough alarm to prompt a review.

Confirmation from Cork County Board chairman Ger Lane to a national newspaper that excess costs for the redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh is €16m, or 22.85pc, above the projected €70m cost, should also be cause for alarm on Leeside and has prompted a review. Such figures had been speculated on in recent months.

But there's a sense of inevitability about costs being overshot with big infrastructural projects in every walk of life.

Whether it's a motorway that hits problems that weren't expected prior to development stage or a house being built to a higher specification when the owners are tempted to pull out all the stops and go that little bit extra to ensure they have the home they want, there's always some give.

GAA stadia are no different and tend to cause problems for those units that build them further down the line.

In Cork's case LED floodlighting, extra terracing and improved turnstiles contributed to a cost excess that will be reviewed by auditors and quantity surveyors and has left Cork GAA picking up a bill for more than €23m when Government and GAA grants and €10m in savings are absorbed.

Ultimately when they were at it, they wanted to do it right.

It's concerning but not unmanageable. However, Cork has been left with a stadium that they can be proud of and in time will give them a very decent return.

And they have given a clear pathway to how they can manage the €23m funding gap with the sale of zoned land in their possession within the confines of Cork city, the sale of naming rights and albeit less ambitious long-term seat sale targets and of course the rent of the stadium on an annual basis.

As much as costs can rise above projections, debt can clear quicker than expected too.

Croke Park cost an estimated €285m to turn around, of which the GAA had to come up with €178m after State aid worth €107m.

The main stadium redevelopment was essentially completed in 2002 and while there were some internal works since carried out, stadium manager Peter McKenna was able to claim Croke Park as 'debt-free' prior to Congress in 2014, with the exception of one internal loan.

The Mayo County Board looked to be struggling with their €16m redevelopment of MacHale Park which left them with a €10m hangover in 2011 but in 2015 a re-arrangement of the debt which saw the GAA take it over and Mayo make repayments, €15,000 per month cheaper, to Croke Park, has lightened their load.

While there will be lessons learned from the Páirc Uí Chaoimh experience, addressing infrastructure will be one of the GAA's main issues over the next decade. Spectator experience and comfort can no longer be taken for granted if attendance figures are to remain high.

The failure of Ireland to win the hosting rights to the 2023 Rugby World Cup is a blow that GAA director-general Páraic Duffy estimated at around €40m to the association, with the work that would have been carried out to bring places like Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney and Pearse Stadium in Galway up to speed.

With each passing year, and with Casement Park making little or no progress nine years on from when a redevelopment was first mooted, infrastructure will become an even bigger issue.

The consensus is that the GAA have too many large stadia that go unfilled, or even close to it in many cases, for most of the year but Croke Park and Páirc Uí Chaoimh apart, how many other GAA stadia are in turn-key condition?

Even Semple Stadium, which underwent an €18m makeover at the end of the last decade, could benefit from further improvements.

The extent of Páirc Uí Chaoimh's financial overshoot only serves to amplify how great the GAA's infrastructural challenge is going to be.

Irish Independent

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