The magnificent Croke Park is to be enhanced in the future to the tune of €71million
Semple Stadium Management Committee and Tipperary County Board have ambitious plans for the redevelopment of Ardán Uí Cuinneain (Old Stand) and will certainly be looking to Croke Park down the line for financial assistance.
News this week that the GAA has no immediate plans to press ahead with an expansion of its conference facilities on the Cusack Stand side of Croke Park, despite loan approval from the European Investment Bank for €36 million, will be welcomed by the Semple Stadium Management Committe -the loan approval was granted last week and was published on the investment bank's website.
But the plans for the expansion of conference facilities, in addition to an upgrade of the museum and refurbishment of seating and corporate facilities, has not, it seems, yet had Páirc an Chrócaigh CTR or GAA Management Committee approval.
The Association is currently facing enormous financial challenges to support its main business of running games -losses of €17m for 2021 are anticipated and Headquarters is to seek further State subvention for the running of inter-county games in 2021 - what would we have done without the matches at the back end of 2020 one wonders?
Semple Stadium Management Committee and Tipperary County Board have ambitious plans for the redevelopment of Ardán Uí Cuinneain (Old Stand) and will certainly be looking to Croke Park down the line for financial assistance. They will have to join the queue as a number of other counties are planning stadium refurbishments and have gotten approval for some significant State funding through the Large Scale Sports Infrastructure Fund. These include Meath (€6.2m), Kildare (€4.875m) and Waterford (€3.8m) received financial backing this time last year for Páirc Tailteann, St Conleth's Park and Walsh Park respectively, while Louth GAA have also unveiled plans for a stadium development in Dundalk.
Work has not begun on any of these projects yet but they would be ahead of Thurles in the pecking order. There is still the legacy of the Pairc Ui Chaoimh debt lingering too.
The Cusack Stand in Croke Park, which is close to being 30 years old at this stage, is due a refurb and with additional conference facilities to be added as well as an enhanced museum experience, the development will be very significant - well, €71million should do quite a lot, although the toal cost of redeveloping Croke Park was in the region of €285 million. That the stadium was declared totally debt free in 2014 is a credit to the Association, especially when others are struggling badly to repay their debts.
The European Investment Banks notice of approval for the €36m loan represents a lot of confidence in the Association, and rightly so - there is a very strong track record and the Association has never been found wanting when it comes to developing grounds and facilities right around the country - each parish in Ireland is testimony to that. Where would communities be in these pandemic days but for the facilities provided by the GAA?
The Association has plans to continue with ongoing development proposals to construct a hotel and playing facilities on the site of Clonliffe College, which it purchased from St Laurence O'Toole (Dublin) Diocesan trust - this site is well known to many Tipperary people who park in the grounds on big match day in Croker.
A 200 bedroom hotel sitting across seven storeys received planning permission last summer and is set to be operated by Dalata under the group's Maldron brand.
The site will also host two 4G pitches and changing room facilities on the 12.8 acres which the GAA retained from the original 31.8-acre site purchased.
There is a listed building - 'The Red House' -which will remain GAA property and may be used as office accommodation in time.
Another 19 acres have been sold to international property development company Hines by the Association, with commitments to build 10% social and 10% affordable housing on the site which is thought to be large enough to accommodate 1,200 apartments and dwellings.
Croke Park, it has been said, sold the 19 acres for around €105m, thereby returning a handsome €10m profit in addition to retaining much of the land - what a good piece of business that was by the Associations financial whiz kids - the FAI must be looking on with green eyes of envy.
All of these developmental projects will occupy the checkbooks for a while but if the experience of the past is anything to go by, Croke Park will not ignore other developments around the country and will continue to support the ambitious plans of County Boards.
When Croker was under reconstruction, other works did not suffer, and one would expect the same to be true going forward.
Semple Stadium Management Committee's plans are very well thought out and very necessary. But, centralised financial support and backing is needed as well as much fundraising locally - the Féile Classicals will not have bolstered the coffers sufficiently, that's for sure.