The Manx Educational Foundation has raised the external finance it needs to proceed with plans to create an IT centre of excellence at the Nunnery.
And in Tynwald, Chief Minister Allan Bell defended the decision by the Council of Ministers to grant MEF an exclusivity deal on the sale of the government-owned building.
He said with the external funding secured, the Foundation would be coming back to CoMin in October to firm up its proposals.
But former Economic Development Minister John Shimmin, who quit the cabinet over the Sefton loans affair, warned the plan could be jeopardised if left to October as there could be an issue over how long the money would be available for the project.
Mr Bell said the October date was suggested by MEF itself. ‘At some point we have to get off the roundabout and make a decision,’ he added.
Peter Karran (Lib Van, Onchan) questioned the merits of an exclusivity deal, pointing out the time period had been extended a number of times. He said during his time as Education Minister there had been approaches for the use of the Nunnery as an ideal headquarters for a boutique hotel.
Mr Bell said: ‘I accept that, by not putting the Nunnery out for expressions of interest, there will always be a small amount of doubt in the minds of some that there might have been another offer which could possibly have been better.
‘What we do know is that the MEF has indicated it required the exclusivity agreement in order to secure the private finance necessary for this project.
‘The MEF presented to Council of Ministers last week, confirming that they have raised the necessary finance – millions of pounds which they are seeking to invest in our community. The MEF indicated that the exclusivity agreement was key in helping to secure this funding.
‘If we now were to choose to seek other expressions of interest, the MEF has informed us that this would jeopardise the funding commitments they have worked so hard to achieve. So we could lose that project while pursuing the slim possibility of gaining better value.’
Mr Bell insisted government is not simply focused on a ‘quick buck’ and was trying to make decisions in the island’s long-term strategic interests. He said: ‘CoMin was satisfied that the decision last year to enter into the exclusivity agreement with the MEF was the right one.’
MEF had to raise £12.5m in external funding as a condition to be met before it could buy the Nunnery for £5m.