Dublin City Council is seeking €25 million in government grants to develop a new city library in Parnell Square following the failure to secure philanthropic funding needed for the project.
The council needs some €80 million to move the library from the Ilac shopping centre to a Georgian terrace on Parnell Square North. It plans to fund two-thirds of the cost through loans, but it needs a substantial exchequer boost to complete the project.
Seven years ago the Parnell Square Foundation, a partnership between the council and American real estate investment company Kennedy Wilson, was set up to to redevelop Parnell Square as a cultural quarter for Dublin.
Kennedy Wilson agreed to lead the effort to raise private donations to fund the project. The cultural quarter was at the time expected to cost €60 million and be completed by 2017.
However, in 2016 it emerged the expected costs had risen to €100 million. The council subsequently agreed to contribute 45 per cent of the cost, using a loan from the European Investment Bank, with the remainder to be funded through donations. The target opening date was pushed out to 2020.
Last May, An Bord Pleanála granted planning permission for the project that would see a new city library, 200-seat conference centre, a music centre, education facilities and a cafe and exhibition space opened at the north end of the square.
The scheme would also include the creation of a new public plaza, and the restoration of some of the city’s finest Georgian houses, including the former Coláiste Mhuire, a Christian Brothers school, in what was to be a catalyst for the regeneration of the north inner city.
However, just over two months later council chief executive Owen Keegan said the costs had risen to "circa €131 million", largely due to construction inflation, and the foundation could not guarantee the money.
“I have now been advised, following work undertaken by a consultant engaged by Kennedy Wilson on behalf of the foundation, that the required private fundraising could take over three years and that there is no guarantee it will be successful,” Mr Keegan said.
The consultant highlighted the scale of funding required for the project relative to the sums raised previously for cultural projects in Ireland, from national and international donors, and the "fact that libraries have a lower affinity score with private donors than the arts generally", Mr Keegan said.
The best course of action, he said, was for the council to go ahead with building the new library within its own funds, at a cost of about €80 million, with the work to the Georgian houses, the plaza, and the other cultural elements to be deferred to a later date.
However, the council is in a position to secure just €50-€55 million in loan finance and is facing a shortfall of about €25 million.
Mr Keegan has written to the Department of Finance seeking a meeting to discuss the possibility of exchequer grant aid for the project. Outgoing Minister and Dublin Central TD Paschal Donohoe is understood to be supportive of the project. However, a spokesman for the department said it was not in a position to comment on the matter.