Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

The live music industry angle to Budget 2014

Brendan Howlin throws €10 million from sale of the National Lottery to new venue in Cork

The government's biggest live music fans

Wed, Oct 16, 2013, 09:19


One of the many below-the-fold items in Budget 2014 was a mention of “the development of a large scale multi-functional events centre in Cork” on the list of projects getting cash from the exchequer. It may have been a blink-and-you-missed-it moment as Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin listed the events centre as one of the projects getting cash from the proceeds of the recent sale of the National Lottery. 14 schemes in all will share €205 million in the move to boost “local economic activity and job creation”.

The Cork events centre is a bit of a long-running saga. While it’s long being argued that Cork doesn’t have a decent space a la the O2 and that such a venue would bring jobs, events and financial benefits to the city, all previous plans to get the thing off the ground have come to nothing.

For example, back in 2006, Cork City Council dangled a €12 million carrot to attract the private sector. The council plumped for Howard Holdings’ €33m docklands conference centre plan rather than one of the other three proposals, but that one fell apart when the company hit financial rocks. It’s unlikely that CEO Greg Coughlan will be in the ring this time around, though it’s worth noting the project’s planning permission is probably still valid.

According to recent reports, there are two likely contenders in the ring. According to the Irish Examiner report, BAM and Heineken Ireland have planning permission for a “€150m proposal on the former Beamish and Crawford site, which includes a 6,000-seat event centre, cinema, student apartments, restaurants, shops, bars, and galleries”.

There’s also developer Owen O’Callaghan who is working with Live Nation on a two-acre site on Albert Quay for a €50m 5,000-seat venue. Yes, in a roundabout way, Live Nation may well end up with a slice of the money you lost when you bought those scratchcards the other day. Man, economics is great gas altogether.

Given that around €10 million of national funds are now in the pot as well as the likely money from City Hall (plus, no doubt, the cash from some brand keen to buy the naming rights to the venue), you can expect this venue to go ahead this time around. Naturally, there will be joy and rejoicing and speeches from men in ill-fitting pinstriped suits at the opening in due course, but it will be interesting to see if and how the venue will then attract the events required to keep it ticking over and how its competitors are likely to react to a well-upholstered newcomer on their patch.

From a live music industry point of view, it’s clear that there’s a demand in Cork for a 5,000-plus venue. As the annual Live at the Marquee gigs show, the audience does exist, provided the act is right. However, there are only a certain amount of acts who can fill a 5,000-plus venue in this country at the drop of a hat in the current economic climate and an even smaller number of visiting acts who are likely to free up a night on their touring schedule for a visit to Cork. Some may argue that it’s a case of “build it and they will come”, but while that certainly applies to the audience (remember how the O2 benefited from the novelty angle when it initially opened), it may be a different matter with acts.

The presence of Live Nation on the bench of likely riders-and-runners is also worth noting. Over the course of the summer, Live Nation’s presence on the Irish festival scene has increased hugely via Festival Republic’s activities. The company already have a significant hold on the Dublin market via The O2 and Bord Gáis Energy Theatre and they’re sure to be eager to extend their footprint by moving south. Whether Live Nation’s involvement would necessarily mean more acts heading south remains to be seen, but the company’s slow, steady growth in Ireland has been quite remarkable to watch.