Thursday 26 July 2007

Go-ahead for €33m events centre — but losing bidders criticise plan

CORK has beaten Limerick in the race to provide a multi-million euro events centre for Munster.

The Department of Sport confirmed yesterday that it is considering building such a facility in Limerick in an effort to boost tourism in the mid-west region.

If sanctioned, the new conference centre will be located near Shannon Airport.
But Cork has beaten them to the punch. On Monday, city councillors selected a Howard Holdings plan to build a €33 million events centre in the city’s docklands.

They also rubber-stamped an €8.25m grant to help secure the facility.

Despite a broad welcome from the city’s business and tourism interests, the plan was slated yesterday by one of the companies which lost out on the bid.

Medaza — a firm headed by Robert Daly and Aidan Foley — claimed the venue will be too small and will not be able to attract large conferences or “A-list music stars”.

Frustrated by years of delays, Cork’s city manager, Joe Gavin, offered a grant, up to a maximum of €12m, last April to encourage submissions from the private sector to secure the development of an events/conference centre for the city.

Four proposals were submitted, from Howard Holdings, Medaza, the Hyde Partnership and Ascon.

They were examined by three senior city officials — Kevin Terry, the head of the planning department, Tim Healy, the head of the finance department, and Jim O’Donovan, the director of community and enterprise.

They recommended to Mr Gavin that he recommend to councillors that the city endorse Howard Holdings’ plans for the project. After an hour and a half of talks behind closed doors, councillors finally endorsed the project.

But Medaza criticised all aspects of the winning proposal.

“The conference centre can accommodate 2,000 — this therefore excludes forever Cork’s ability to hold major conferences for the pharmaceutical or medical industries — of up to 5,000 people,” the spokesman said.

“Neither event centre or conference centre could accommodate an Árd Fheis of any of the main political parties or a national conference for any of the main trade unions.”

He said sporting bodies told Medaza that with a facility as large as they were proposing — 6,500–8,000 seats — they could deliver European and world championships in various codes to Cork.

“This will now not be possible with the Howard Holdings proposal,” he said.

The proposed 200-bed hotel will also be too small, he said.

But a spokesman for Howard Holdings defended their proposal.

“The design meets all the specifications that were set out by the city,” he said.

“Howard Holdings employed HOK International — leading designers of events and conference centres across Europe — to design this facility.

“And Live Nation who run The Point also had an input.

“Key to its success will be its flexibility. It can host large events as well as smaller events.”

Howard Holdings are ready to lodge a planning application within weeks and plan to have the venue open by September 2009.

Irish Examiner

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