KILKENNY local authorities have given the go-ahead to purchase the St Francis Abbey Brewery site from Diageo for €2.1 million, following two unanimous ballots at an historic joint meeting held yesterday (Tuesday) in City Hall.
Members of Kilkenny Borough and County Councils gathered to discuss an offer from Diageo regarding the 10.6-acre site, and to vote on whether to purchase it. Two separate motions, one for the county council and one for the borough, were passed following unanimous agreement by those present.
The local authorities hope to take possession of the site in 2014/15, subject to it being cleared and remediated in accordance with Environmental Protection Agency regulations. Diageo says it will use the €2.1 million purchase fee from the council to cover the cost of this operation, meaning the acquistion is essentially cost-free.
The purchase will exclude the Victorian brewing buildings, which currently house the visitor centre fronting onto Parliament Street. Diageo plans to retain these buildings, although for what purpose it has not yet been revealed.
Several councillors have expressed a desire to retain some sort of micro-brewery or craft facility to maintain the Kilkenny’s historic brewing tradition. However, Diageo has made it clear that the handover agreement will contain a “brand protection clause” to ensure that no alternative or competing brewing company can be established onsite.
Local councillors have described the purchase as an enormous opportunity for the future of Kilkenny, however, some are wary of the financial implications.
The two councils have already set aside some €300,000 for the purchase, with a further €500,000 expected to be garnered from land sales. This leaves a shortfall of approximately €1.3 million that the borough council will ultimately have to borrow in order for the deal to progress.
County manager Joe Crockett said that the loan will likely involve a 15-year repayment plan of around €125,000 per year. Such an arrangement can only take place with the official sanction of the Department of Finance, as well as Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan.
The next question concerns the long-term future of the site. There is a wide spectrum of opinions on this issue within the council, with some members favouring residential and retail development, and others vehemently opposed to this. Mayor of Kilkenny David Fitzgerald has said that the citizens will get to have their say, with a public meeting mooted for later on this month.
Cathaoirleach of the county council Paul Cuddihy said that yesterday’s vote was an immensely significant occasion.
“This is a hugely historic moment for Kilkenny, and possibly the most important decision we will make as local authorities,” he said.