Martin Breheny: Spawell rejection a major setback for Dublin GAA
Dublin GAA has suffered a major setback, arising from its failed attempt to acquire the landmark Spawell Complex on the city's southside.
The county board launched a concerted effort to acquire the NAMA-controlled 35-acre property in Templeogue but lost out in a bidding war.
"We are extremely disappointed that our bid was unsuccessful," said Dublin CEO John Costello.
"We considered that the Dublin GAA proposal for the construction of five grass and synthetic playing pitches and complementary facilities represented the best outcome for NAMA and the tax-payer, involving as it would, significant benefits to the community in terms of participation in sport, health and fitness and the economy generally."
The complex was placed on the market a few months ago, with an asking price of €6.5m.
The Dublin County Board has not revealed how much they offered but it's understood to have been considerably higher than the asking price.
However, they were not prepared to become involved in a bidding war once it reached a certain level.
As well as providing several pitches, the site would also have been suitable for a stadium, in line with Dublin's 2011-17 strategic plan.
It envisaged the construction of a mid-sized facility, capable of accommodating around 25,000 spectators.
The Spawell Complex is located very close to the M50 motorway, making it an ideal location for Dublin county board's plans.
There is easy access to the site, which would have been a major advantage if a stadium were built there.
Situated equidistant between the St Jude's and Ballyboden-St Enda's clubs, it's in the heartland of a thriving GAA area.
A long-established leisure and sporting facility, Spawell currently has an 18-hole, par-3 golf course, a driving range, squash courts and Astro-Turf pitches.
It also features various commercial premises, including a pub and a garden centre.
Planning permission for a 150-bedroom hotel, a leisure centre and 579 car parking spaces was granted in 2010 and subsequently extended to 2020. Rental income from the 12 tenancies currently stands at over €600,000 per annum.
Dublin GAA has owned a 26-acre site in Rathcoole for several years, but various access difficulties hindered development plans.
Spawell's location made it much more attractive for a number of reasons, including the potential to develop a stadium reasonably close to the city. Building a mid-sized stadium in Dublin has been mooted for several years.
The capacity of Parnell Park, on the northside, is limited to 10,000 and with little room for expansion on any side of the ground, the development options are very limited.
Croke Park is available to Dublin, as required, but its 83,200-capacity is too much for all except the big Championship games. A stadium with a capacity of around 25,000, complete with other facilities, on the southside is regarded as the ideal solution.
Developing Spawell would have been a major driver of GAA activity on the south of the city, an area which has already experienced massive growth over recent decades.
However, the need for a modern stadium on the southside has been apparent for some time.
The fact that Dublin county board were prepared to bid for a facility that has an asking price of €6.5m underlines their ambitions for the future. It also highlights the difference in scale between their operations and those of counties with access to smaller resources.
It now remains to be seen if Dublin pursue other potential locations on the southside. Their option range is limited, which is why the board is so disappointed at missing out on Spawell.
Similar opportunities present themselves very infrequently on the southside of the city, where land is very scarce.
Costello's critical comments about NAMA are also interesting as they raise questions about the agency's precise role.
NAMA includes "social initiatives" as being within its remit.
"NAMA, within the context of its overriding commercial objective, seeks to manage its portfolio in a manner that complements the objectives of Government Departments, local authorities and State agencies," notes its website.
Dublin GAA would argue that providing a major facility for a sporting organisation, deeply embedded in the local and wider communities, is more complementary to the aims of state agencies that the development of purely commercial activities.
There has been disquiet in south Dublin GAA for several years since the local county council built Tallaght Stadium, which is now home to Shamrock Rovers soccer club.
It caused angst among the GAA community that a 6,000-seater stadium, whose pitch was not sufficiently large to cater for Gaelic games, was built by South Dublin County Council for use by other sporting organisations.
Local GAA leaders argued that once Shamrock Rovers became anchor tenants at the new stadium, it would be a major boost for soccer in the Tallaght area. However, the plan went ahead.
More recently, Dublin City Council has purchased Dalymount Park on Dublin's northside for €3.8m.
It will remain as a soccer stadium, accommodating Bohemians and possibly Shelbourne at a later stage.
It means that councils on either side of the river Liffey have built and bought stadiums that will be used for soccer.
Given those circumstances, the GAA would have felt that their attempt to purchase a facility would be favourably received under Nama's 'Social Initiative' policy.
However, the Dublin county board's bid for Spawell was rejected, leaving them still in the market for a suitable site on the southside.