Plans to transform George’s Dock into a white-water rafting facility got the nod from local councillors last week, after Dublin City Council officials promised them they won’t have to cough up the cash but the council will still own the centre.
That news overshadowed the fact that the estimated price tag for the project has almost doubled since it was first floated in January this year – spiralling upwards from €12 million to €22.8 million.
“The cost previously stated was a preliminary estimate that did not include the design team fees, costs associated with the removal of the events platform, VAT etc,” a spokesperson for Dublin City Council says.
In any case, it is not the council’s cash, the council’s Central Area Committee heard on Tuesday 12 November. Most of it anyway.
This project will be mostly funded by grants, development levies and loans, said Derek Kelly an administrative officer with Dublin City Council.
Local councillors backed the proposal a bit hesitantly.
“This is going to raise lot of eyebrows in the city,” said Social Democrats Councillor Gary Gannon, who wanted assurances that no other infrastructure projects would lose out as a result of this one going forward.
“I don’t think anyone in this chamber would have thought of a white-water rafting facility in that particular location,” said Labour’s Joe Costello. “There is no relationship between what is proposed on the site and what has gone before it.”
But Fine Gael Councillor Ray McAdam congratulated the council officials for “thinking outside the box”.
He initially feared that the project would be a white elephant, he said. But having studied the experience of a similar centre in Cardiff in Wales that fear had been allayed, he said.
As well as white-water rafting, the plan is that the new watersports centre would host rafting, kayaking and water-rescue training.
Dublin City Council staff have visited a successful watersports facility in Cardiff, which is located in the city centre and draws around 80,000 people each year, said Kelly.
Many councillors were primarily concerned that the facility should be retained in public ownership and be available to local people to use.
Fianna Fáil Councillor Mary Fitzpatrick says she still feels disappointed every time she drives past the Clontarf baths due to the lack of public access.
“It is really important that the city council owns this and promotes it,” she said. If it is council-run it will be accessible for locals, she said.
“It will be a great facility as long as it remains in public ownership and local people get to use it,” said independent Councillor Anthony Flynn.
The facility will be fully council-owned and will be run by Dublin City Council’s sports and leisure department, said Central Area Manager Karl Mitchell, at the meeting.
This project should provide some fun for young people, Mitchell said. And potential employment opportunities for locals.
“We have agreed from day one that the whole idea is that young people in the area will get to enjoy this exciting activity,” he said.
Back in January of this year, Kelly, the council administrative officer, told the Central Area Committee that the project should cost around €12 million.
“That could go up, it could go down”, but not by much, he told councillors at that time.
But last Tuesday, Kelly told the same committee that the final cost will be €22.8 million, and that includes contingency. “The whole gambit is included in that so we are quite confident that figure will be robust,” he said.
It is envisaged that Dublin City Council will only be paying around €1.5 million of that, Kelly said. They hope to secure €10 million in grant aid, around €6 million in development levies and hope the project will be able to borrow the rest, he said.
“Since [January] considerable work has been done to refine the design and quantify the extent of works needed to meet conservation requirements,” a council spokesperson said.
Also, instead of refurbishing the current quayside buildings, which were built between1988 and 1994, the plan is now to demolish them and build a new pavilion with changing rooms, a reception area and storage.
Separately, the plans is for the council to construct new offices and a conference centre for Dublin City Council Docklands staff.
The existing building that the council staff use “is located within a flood risk zone and needs to have flood defence measures integrated into the design”, says a spokesperson. “This could not be done with a refurbishment project.”
Alterations are also needed to meet accessibility requirements, she says.
Kelly told the council committee at their meeting last week that the watersports centre should hopefully be a revenue generator in years to come.
“We do see that this facility will be able to wash its own face, at a very minimum, but we would envisage that it will create a return over the longer term,” he said.
The Cardiff watersports facility is exceeding their estimated figures, he said. “Our business case is based on 30,000,” said Kelly.
“It is estimated that the course will reach approximately 36,000 visitors by Year 5,” said the spokesperson for Dublin City Council. “That would generate a surplus in income over expenditure for the operation of the facility.”
The admission charge for each activity has not yet been decided, but prices should be broadly in line with costs in similar facilities in the UK, the spokesperson said.
At Cardiff International White Water prices are £40 to £55 for two hours of white-water rafting including all equipment and protective clothing. There are also discounts for groups and family prices are £22.50 to £25 per person.
The insurance for the George’s Dock facility will be covered by the council’s existing insurance policy, as the facility will be part of Dublin City Council’s sports and leisure facilities, the council spokesperson said. They don’t envisage any major hike in insurance to cover this project, she said.
The plans got the support of the Central Area Committee and are scheduled to come before a full meeting of Dublin City Council in December for the full council to consider and vote on.