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Kelleher's new Inchicore vision puts Dalymount in the shade

An aerial view of Richmond Park, the current home of St Patrick’s Athletic. Photo: Sportsfile
An aerial view of Richmond Park, the current home of St Patrick’s Athletic. Photo: Sportsfile

John Fallon

Whether Dublin needs a couple of shiny football stadiums or not, it seems the Richmond Arena could be created before the Dalymount Park redevelopment project is delivered.

Yesterday morning's unveiling by St Patrick's Athletic of plans to integrate a new venue atop of the project back-boned by retail and community facilities had been long touted since property developer Garrett Kelleher assumed control 11 years ago.

It had become evident in recent years that Richmond Park was unfit not just for use but redevelopment, placing the St Michael's Estate site across Emmet Road into the frontline as the preferred option.

With an original, different proposal led by developer Bernard McNamara perishing during the economic crash, the vacant zone was rife for nurturing and Kelleher is tempting Dublin City Council by floating an all-embracing venture.

The scheme entails the provision of social housing mixed with community and retail aspects all, literally, crowned by the cherry on top.

The Richmond Arena, as it will be known, is to be a 12,000-seater stadium located at first-floor level in similar style to the Stade Louis venue where Monaco play.

Ambitious

Such an ambitious project attracted the predicted combination of excitement and derision yesterday but Kelleher, communicating through club president Tom O'Mahony, means business.

Subject to the council accepting this proposal, at no cost to the taxpayer, as the best course of action to revive the derelict site, then Saints chiefs are confident of full completion for the 2022 season.

That coincides with the latest timeline for the project envisaged across the city in Phibsborough.

Amid his glee at Dublin being named as one of the 13 cities to host the 2020 European championships, FAI chief executive John Delaney had flagged Dalymount as a legacy project but his desire to have it completed in time proved unachievable. Not even a seismic upturn in the public finances could handle that target.

As it stands, the council have commissioned a company to undertake a feasibility at a cost of €250,000 to finalise a report by the summer. That will frame the council's funding plans, yet with the time required to finalise the tendering process, the notion of Bohemians vacating the ground by the end of next season is a long shot. Realistically, it could be another two years before a digger moves on to the site.

Helping the Saints' cause, though, is their financial model.

Kelleher's battles with NAMA have become the topic of much public glare but he continues to trade internationally and this brainchild makes sense from a commercial and social standpoint.

Those dubious about his motivation for purchasing the club in 2007 may have been surprised to see the Dubliner stay loyal during the downturn and he's a frequent attendee at games, home and away, while affording manager Liam Buckley time, space and reasonable finances to remain competitive in the top flight.

According to the last set of accounts, the €3.7m owed to the benefactor would not be called in for the foreseeable future. Now he's at the forefront of delivering an infrastructural project to last beyond his lifetime.

"Garrett has stayed with the club through thick and thin since taking it over," said O'Mahony. "He's not just provided financial support but is a St Pat's fan and wants the club to remain in Inchicore despite people advising him to relocate out of Dublin 8.

"I wouldn't have accepted responsibility for the role and involvement in this project if I didn't have 100pc faith that Garrett Kelleher has good intentions with this project."

The involvement, too, of O'Mahony could prove crucial. Formerly head of the government's department of sport and tourism up to his retirement two years ago, his knowledge of lobbying in the corridors of political power will be imperative.

Representatives

Ultimately, the city's public representatives will have to make a call on voting for the proposal and local independent councillor Paul Hand was among those yesterday attaching caution to the feel-good glow surrounding the project.

"Dublin City Council own the land so I don't understand how they're going to build a stadium on land they don't own," Hand told RTÉ.

That's where the years of preparation will come in, according to O'Mahony.

While coy on the actual final costs of the package, he supplied assurances that money would be generated through the retail and housing elements to fund it.

There was also the suggestion that a rezoning of the current Richmond Park venue for housing development could contribute.

"This project is unique insofar as it will be entirely funded through the private sector," stressed O'Mahony.

"It is not like Tallaght Stadium, Dalymount or even the Aviva Stadium in being reliant on government grants.

"We have met informally with the council and they like what they've heard. It is not within our control what the council do but if a decision is made on the preferred tenderers by the end of this year, the planning permission should take no more than another 12 months.

"We'd be ready to start by the end of 2019 and have the development built within two years."

Given it took 12 years and €11m for Tallaght Stadium from the time of land being leased to staging its first game, the usual health warnings will apply. Still, Kelleher has overcome bigger hurdles before to match words with action.

Irish Independent

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