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Whitewater rafting: Dublin City Council CEO explored crowd-funding controversial project

The proposed facility at George’s Dock was first announced in 2019.

CGI image of the whitewater rafting course
CGI image of the whitewater rafting course
Image: Dublin City Council

DUBLIN CITY COUNCIL chief executive Owen Keegan explored the possibility of using a crowd-funding firm to progress the controversial whitewater rafting facility planned for the city’s north quays, according to documents seen by The Journal

The Council was contacted by crowdfunding company Spark in late April, documents released under Freedom of Information legislation show.

A meeting was held between Keegan and the company over Zoom to discuss raising funds from potential investors as well as the general public.

On 18 April Spark wrote to Keegan: “Depending on the vehicle and structure/terms of the investment opportunity, we believe we can raise the funds you require for the whitewater rafting facility, both from our own substantial database of investors and from the wider public via a nationwide media campaign to promote the opportunity.”

The proposed facility at George’s Dock has been the subject of considerable controversy and media interest since it was first announced in 2019.

Spending on the project has so far hit €1.3 million, figures released by Dublin City Council show. 

The local authority issued a tender in January seeking prospective developers for the centre with six companies subsequently expressing interest. 

At the time the tender document was released the Council revealed that construction on the €25 million whitewater rafting, kayaking and water rescue facility was expected to commence by the autumn. 

The project – which is expected to take 18 months to build – involves converting the early 19th-century dock into a rafting facility with a water polo facility on a central island. This facility will also serve as an emergency training centre for Dublin Fire Brigade. 

Dublin City Council’s application for €19 million in funding for the project was turned down by the Department of Local Government in March but the Council insisted the project could still go ahead as it was already pursuing other means of funding. 

The Council has targeted €6 million of the funding from development levies, €4 million from capital grants and €15 million from “anticipated grants”. 

A spokeswoman for the Council confirmed that Keegan met with Spark on one occasion to discuss potential crowdfunding for the facility but said “there is no proposal to use the services of this company to raise funds for the whitewater facility.”

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The Council has said it expects 37,000 people to use the facility if it is built – rising to 75,000 in its fifth year of operation. According to the Council a similar facility in Cardiff, Wales attracts around 85,000 people per year. 

Councillors voted in favour of advancing the project in December 2019. 

Documents show that the Council received a considerable number of queries related to the project in 2021 with one member of the public describing the proposal as “a complete waste of public money”.

Another member of the public wrote to Keegan in support of the project saying they were a member of Cabra Kayaking Club and described the rafting proposal as a “wonderful, progressive and future looking project”.

They added: “I have seen mixed comments on social media too, few in favour, must be honest, decrying that these funds should be spent on more noble and virtuous purposes – housing, hospitals, public baths, none of which are ever likely to qualify for any sports grants.”

Documents also show that in response to a statement from Senator Michael McDowell in January where the politician described the whitewater rafting project as a “political obscenity” and a “grotesque vanity project”, Keegan said that he felt Senator McDowell “is being a bit unfair to the project and to the City Council”.

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