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Controversial Cork event centre to hold financing talks

Legal advisers on the proposed 6,000-seat Cork events venue have prepared advice on how much extra funding the Irish government can commit to the project before the entire process is open to legal challenge.

The Irish Examiner reported that crunch talks are set to be held this week in an effort to save the stalled arena.

While the state agreed to an initial €20m (£17.7m/$23.5m) in public funding almost three years ago, costs for the venue have since soared to almost €73m. Ground was broken at the former Beamish and Crawford brewery site almost two years ago, though construction is yet to begin.

Last year, planners completely redesigned the original venue, at the request of Live Nation who will manage the venue, to ensure it would be commercially viable. Developers subsequently requested another €18m in state support to make the site much larger than originally planned. They broke the figure down by claiming that the costs had increased by €12m and that a €6m contingency fund was also needed.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said a draft recommendation on the funding is now ready, after weeks of legal analysis. Despite this, Coveney would not reveal how much of the additional €18m the Government can sanction before the original competitive tender process is open to challenge.

BAM and Live Nation will this week need to make a decision on whether to proceed based on the legal and financial situation, the report says.

Coveney said: “I’m happy now that we have a recommendation from the legal team in terms of what Government can and can’t do.

“It will be so much, and our legal advice says we can’t go anymore without actually looking at the (competitive tender) process all over again — which we certainly don’t want to do.

“It has taken a long time to get us this far — we are not starting again. We’ve got a site, we’ve got planing permission, we’ve got a developer ready to go, we’ve got an event manager who’s the best in the world at doing what they do.

“We want to make this happen now, and we need to finalise the financial package that will give BAM and Live Nation the support they need to make it happen. We are trying to finalise that now to make sure we don’t have a legal challenge to the process, that the competitive process still stands up and that the financing of this project isn’t so fundamentally changed that the process is called into question.”

Coveney said that any further talks to find a way forward will then have to involve the Department of the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and the department of Public Expenditure.

“I’ve offered timelines in the past, but this is a project I have a huge personal connection with, and one I’ve taken a lot of grief on, and that’s fine,” he said. “I’m happy to do that as long as we make this happen in the end. We are really at the end-game point at this stage. I thought we’ve been there on a number of occasions to date, but to be clear, the ask has come to me to find more funding.

“We don’t want to build a mediocre events centre. This will be a really special piece of infrastructure for the city that’s going to be there for the next 50-80 years.”

Meanwhile, 3Arena in Dublin saw a boost in profits through sell-out shows from the likes of Adele, Rod Stewart, Justin Bieber and Paul Simon.

Live Nation subsidiary, Amphitheatre Ireland, which manages and operates the venue, has revealed that its pre-tax profits climbed to €8.09m in 2016 from €7.87m in 2015. This increase came in spite of lower attendances, while the 2017 forecast is estimated to be in between the numbers from the previous two years.

In addition, the venue totalled €9.6m last year before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortisation (Ebitda), which was down from €10.4m in 2015.