The meeting yesterday afternoon at the Council Chambers was an open meeting with all members of the public invited to attend. The gallery was full of opponents to the Precinct and not many in support of the whole idea. Is the dissent caused by cost alone, as the walk the streets initiative I have begun indicates? Is it the position of the Precinct, on land some believe could be better utilised? Or is the real answer much more simple, yet harder to counteract than that?
The cost has been adequately responded to by Council officers and Councillors in the past few weeks. It will mean a $33'000'000 outlay by the Council, taken as a loan over 20 years. This is an achievable target that is well within the reach of our current Council coffers. It would mean no impact on rates and would still leave us with a large borrowing capacity.
There are questions on the ongoing maintenance and running costs of the Precinct and they need to be answered as soon as possible but should not exceed the $3'000'000 prediction. Will the restaurant and retail aspects of the development be required to make it viable? If so, there are more questions requiring answers because businesses all over the city are closing and empty stores and restaurants are only going to have a negative look, feel and the possibility of a large hole in the budget, all of which will need to be addressed. It should not be a hard task to answer those questions though and overall, there is no real financial reason that this project should suddenly be a non-viable one.
The land can be argued about till the end of time but reality says that it has been gifted to Council by the State Government, it is suitable for the purpose, it has no alternate use and it will not cause any problems for the waterfront shipping ability of Cairns in the future. Simple, straightforward and truthful. The public can't ask for more than that.
The picture of the 'Valcano' was the beginning of the confusion and dissatisfaction from the public. It is an ugly picture, there is no doubt about that, and people are finding it very difficult to distance the picture from the whole project. It doesn't help that it's featured in the paper every time they write two words about the Precinct. Mind you, without an alternative picture, what are they supposed to do? Someone needs to get onto a new 'concept' design picture that can be used while the preliminary process is still going on. Give the damn thing to the paper and tell them to use it instead. Again, easy to fix and not the real reason for the argument against.
The real reason that people are so opposed to the Precinct going ahead is a very, very simple one. They hate Val. This is seen as 'her' idea (despite the fact it has been looked at in various forms for the past 16 years) and the people of Cairns don't like her. They didn't like Byrne either. Mind you, he did build a horrific mushroom in the City Place and surrounded it with bizarre paving off-cuts and public urinals (oops, I mean sculptures) and capped it off by providing no shade and concrete seating in the sun. It's understandable that they would be reluctant to go along with any plan he may provide for a future development. Even the fabulous Esplanade development with Muddies and the Lagoon was a Tom Pyne initiative so there is very little, if any, public amenities or facilities that Kevin was responsible for that aren't ugly and inappropriate.
Val has had a hand in several projects, such as the Cattana Wetlands area, that are world class and entirely appropriate to who we are and how we want to be perceived. You would think that this would be enough. It would prove she was capable. Apparently not. Apparently she is seen as a dictator, hard, unyielding and completely non-likeable.
Cairns, like the rest of Australia, needs to form a relationship of sorts with the leaders we have. We need to 'bond' in some way with those who make decisions for us, or we simply hate everything they do. It's not particularly scientific, perhaps slightly unreasonable, but it's who we are.
If Oprah had come to town and told us all that we need a cultural hub in this city, one that would allow local people to interact, perform and be entertained, we would all be jumping up and down demanding that it occur. If the Government THEN said to us, here's 40 million to get started, we would celebrate and start planning tomorrow.
Unfortunately for Cairns, the dislike for the Mayor may well become a bigger problem than us just not having a warm fuzzy feeling toward her. It may end with us losing the biggest opportunity Cairns has had in a very long time, certainly in my memory.
Besides anything else, liking someone does not make them good at their job, we have proven that with more past Prime Ministers, Premiers and Mayors than I care to think about. Sometimes the ones who are without emotional connection, at least from all appearances, are the best at making dispassionate decisions when it's required.
Go ahead and pick on Val if it will help you feel better, but don't let Cairns fall further behind based on a petty personality issue. The Cairns Cultural Precinct is a requirement for Cairns' future development and growth, please don't let this opportunity to do something great fade away. At the next Precinct meeting I expect more people in the gallery supporting this development, over-riding the loud dissent.