Is Páirc’s final ‘estimated cost’ actually the end of it?

By Michael Moynihan
Staff writer

The comments were probably lost in the kerfuffle over GAA ticket prices and attendance figures, but they’re worth revisiting now given the statement this week on Páirc Uí Chaoimh’s redevelopment costs.

At the end of last month, the GAA’s director-general Tom Ryan was discussing the organisation’s finances when the Cork stadium was mentioned. Regarding the final costs, Ryan said: “It will find a median between the 85 [million euro] and the 110 [million euro]. The 110 includes contingencies, as well, which are not included in the 85.

“There are four key things that are still at issue: One is arbitration with a contractor, there’s a tax question, there’s one or two other bits of negotiations on things to be resolved, and there’s a significant asset sale, all of which will nudge the cost down towards the number you referred to from Cork.

“I’m not being evasive. It will only be when those three or four little processes are complete that we’ll know finally where it ends up at.”

This is worth bearing in mind when considering that statement on the figure determined by Michael O’Flynn and Tom Gray. According to the statement, “the cost of the Páirc Uí Chaoimh stadium redevelopment has returned an estimated cost of €95.8m”. 

This figure is described elsewhere in the statement as “the final estimated cost” of the redevelopment.

Unfortunately, this is contradicted by the statement itself, which states that “provision has been made for the full replacement of the pitch at Páirc Uí Chaoimh” in arriving at that figure.

Yet, a couple of paragraphs later we learn “a final decision on whether to undertake a full pitch replacement or other remediation work on the Páirc Uí Chaoimh pitch will be taken by the stadium board in the immediate future.” 

Clearly “other remediation work” would involve a further cost to be added to the €95.8m, which makes this an estimate that didn’t survive until the end of the statement announcing it.

In any case, expect further change when the issues signposted by Ryan come into play. 

There are significant sums involved running to the millions in the “arbitration with a contractor” and the “tax question”, while “one or two other bits of negotiations on things” include a fractious relationship with Cork City Council relating to local infrastructure that needs to be resolved and which also involves a significant amount of money.

Where does that leave the “final estimated cost”?

The best-case scenario is that those “key things” will work out for the Cork County Board, freeing up the executive to deal with other issues, on-field results being the least of their concerns.

The troubles with the playing surface have been well aired, but those attending the recent double-header in the stadium also remarked on the visible deterioration in the appearance of the terraces at either end of the ground:  in accounting terms, this is depreciation of the asset.

Even now, the stadium naming rights have not been sold, though in 2017 the then-chairman of the county board, Ger Lane told this newspaper: “We have retained the services of an expert company in this area, based in Dublin, which is seeking out potential sponsors.” 

There is also no sign of the stadium technology partner mooted when the venue was opened.

The ongoing controversies surrounding the venue and the county board have made it all the more difficult for Cáirde Chorcaí, the Cork GAA fundraising body, to establish that it is not providing funds to alleviate the stadium debt but rather for coaching and separate facilities.

Just one-third of the premium tickets have been bought, but the county board must now decide how to accommodate in Páirc Uí Rinn those who have spent €6,500 on tickets for Páirc Uí Chaoimh or whether to give a refund to those premium ticket holders while the latter venue is out of action. 

Selling those tickets in light of recent developments should be challenging, to say the least.

Its hand is seriously compromised in dealing with other counties, due to its financial travails. 

Those travails have a direct impact on the revenue those counties can expect to receive from Croke Park, and Cork’s unparalleled ability to attract unflattering headlines has also undercut its credibility.

Recent meetings of the county board, for instance, have been dominated by exchanges between delegates and the executive about Diarmuid O’Donovan, who has now departed as senior administrator after taking out a High Court injunction against the board. 

Employees of other county boards have surely noted those proceedings with interest.

The constant association of Cork and catastrophe has a less visible effect in the horse-trading and jockeying for advantage on any number of GAA issues, appointments and venues being obvious examples. 

It all means that Cork now negotiates from a position of weakness rather than strength, as even positive initiatives are swamped by ineptitude.

Discussion of the recent strategic football plan was overshadowed by TV footage of a torn-up pitch and a meandering narrative about Corkness, while enlisting Michael O’Flynn’s aid to estimate costs raised one obvious question. 

Why get someone with experience of €100m projects in Cork involved in your own €100m project in Cork... when it’s finished?

In terms of revenue, the vicious circle simply keeps on turning: Páirc Uí Chaoimh cannot be used for league games, which means the asset is not being utilised and the premium tickets are harder to sell, which means revenue drops, which means the debt is harder to pay down.

Wednesday night’s statement ended simply: “The Board will be making no further comment on these matters.”

However, it was not clear whether that was the stadium board or the county board.

Or is that question even worth asking?

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