Trials and Tribulations at Páirc Uí Chaoimh

It has been a widely known concern that the cost of developing Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork had escalated well beyond the original budget of €70 million.

We are now in the process of discovering how that happened and where the full and final figure lies between the €86 million that was suggested as late as Saturday at the Cork County Convention or the €110 million that was suggested by those who have been closest to stabilising the situation.

There is an old adage that we have no control over the past but we can manage the future and that’s what is happening in Cork.

Peter McKenna and Tom Ryan, who together managed the finances and the business side of the GAA and Croke Park for the past decade, have been key players in sorting through a number of the issues that have arisen over the past few years as Cork’s signature sporting venue was redeveloped.

It is now a fine stadium, not without its teething problems but that is the same with all major infrastructure.

The stadium has been separated out from the Cork County Board and been incorporated with its own board of directors. It is being managed in the short term by McKenna and the Croke Park team but that is expected to give way to an ‘on the ground’ management team over the course of the coming months.

Croke Park will still be involved and will bring not only experience but also massive leverage in dealing with potential concerts, conferences and other sources of revenue to start paying down the debt that has accrued.

The good thing is the company is solvent. It has a significant debt but the GAA is a strong guarantor, in an informal if not a formal sense on this project and the Bank of Ireland which is the primary lender will be keen to work with the new board to find solutions over the medium to long term as opposed to any immediate way out.

An acceptance of looking in detail to see where the costs overran and understanding the financial challenges of managing such a large venue are also well in hand.

Often the biggest part of any management problem is being blind as to how it arose and unwilling to learn. That is not the case here as we learnt in a statement issued last night by the GAA following the latest Board Meeting of the Stadium Company in Cork on Monday night.

The statement said:

Michael O’Flynn and Tom Gray, both board directors, have been asked by the board to examine figures and clarify the costs relating to the stadium redevelopment.

The meeting also confirmed that remedial work will take place on the playing surface to ensure that it will be capable of hosting games fixed for Páirc Uí Chaoimh in 2019. This work will be completed ahead of the commencement of the Allianz Leagues and it is not expected that a replacement of the pitch will be needed in the short term.

GAA President John Horan said: “I am delighted that the GAA has such a positive asset in Cork and I am optimistic about the future of what is a state of the art facility.”

Cork GAA Chairperson Tracey Kennedy added: “It is fantastic for us to be able to call on the experience and expertise of Croke Park to work with us in the operation of our stadium, and I know this will be a huge positive for Páirc Uí Chaoimh.”

There will be hard questions asked around the management of the process but the right people are in place to stand up and answer those as they come.

The world will keep turning and Cork City now has a stadium and a venue that is fit for purpose in the 21st Century.

That was not the case with the old stadium so something had to change, and it did.  Whether it happened with all the right controls and planning is a matter for the Board to review and all the stakeholders to learn from.

Some of the lessons will be painful but one of the great lessons that sport gives us is that we improve through analysis of the decisions we make under certain pressures, and it is often the most testing of times that lead to the greatest victories.

Nobody would suggest that a potential overrun of €40 million was not a major concern but the Ed Sheeran Concerts last summer generated income of €1.4 million and the stadium is now in a stronger position to attract more of those key boosters for the city.  The overall ecenomic benefit across hotels, restaurants and shops from those three concerts is estimated at €10 million

The Rugby World Cup bid was in play at the time the decision was taken to press ahead with the development and we must always remember the factors that were relevant at the time, even though we are now able to look on them wit hindsight.

There is a job of work to be done in getting things right in Cork.  At least that is now being recognised and that’s always the most important first step.


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