The Ulster Council will heed any lessons to be learned from the troubled Páirc Uí Chaoimh stadium project when redeveloping Casement Park and are confident the new venue will be delivered on budget, and be able to pay for itself, when it finally opens.
The return of politicians to Stormont has injected a new sense of urgency and momentum into the stalled Casement redevelopment, with two government ministers meeting Ulster Council chiefs on-site in west Belfast on Wednesday.
“There were very positive vibes, we still have to get planning permission but it was great to have two ministers there,” said Ulster Council President Oliver Galligan.
“Would you believe it was a thousand days since we had put in our second planning application, so we were going nowhere really.”
In the intervening three years, projected building costs have spiralled from £77 million (€90m) to around £110m (€128m), but Galligan insists the GAA will have certain guarantees from building contractors.
A report last year into the cost of the Páirc Uí Chaoimh stadium redevelopment was almost €10m more than projected by the Cork County Board.
It was confirmed before Christmas that the stadium, which opened in July 2017, operated at a loss of €467,000 up until October 2018, with further losses incurred in the accounts for 2019 yet to be presented.
Ulster has been warned.
“We have gone through this closely for the last two or three years and we have increased building costs of about £30m because of a delay — but we will have a firm contract whenever it starts and it will be tight to that,” claimed Galligan,
“Páirc Uí Chaoimh got out of hand a wee bit, there was a contract and it escalated then through no fault of anybodys. Perhaps it was not tight enough.
“In fairness we have gone through a very tight process and went through all the rules and regulations.
“A revised business case has gone in and the department will look at that.”
Former Ulster Council Head of Finance Michelle McAleer took over as the Stadium Manager of Páirc Uí Chaoimh in February 2019.
The controversial pitch problems have now been resolved and it is hoped that from 2020 onwards, the Cork stadium will provide a surplus, with two Westlife concerts in August and stadium naming rights also being considered.
“Michelle is there on a two-year secondment, she is there to help sort out some of the problems, and absolutely we will talk to Croke Park and everyone we can and learn from others,” added Galligan.
“Once it is open, Casement Park has to wash its face. From our point of view Belfast and Ulster needs a GAA stadium and when it is up and running it will have to pay for itself.”
Conferences, corporate boxes, premium seats, and rental of handball alleys are some of the potential income generators being explored.