Here we go again. Just when it seemed we were past the 'will we, won't we' phase, it appears that we are headed back to the grey area regarding the Entertainment Precinct. It was my belief that the current stage was about the final designs (do we want a bowl area, can we have a large outdoor screen on one of the walls for those wishing to gather to watch a sporting event or other televised interests outside of the arts) but it appears that we have stalled there and have gone back to the maybe, sometime stage.
There will always be those who do not want this Precinct. Those who think the cost is too high, the timing is all wrong and the need is not there. There are those who would prefer a sporting facility be built and those who actually believe we can have both, at the same time! Concentrating on that will never get the Precinct built.
Here are some facts.
The Entertainment Precinct is partially funded by both other tiers of government. This money is non transferable and has a limited window of use. The reason that the window is there is because the government cannot indefinitely pledge the money without it impacting on budgets. If it isn't used now, that means that the money could have been spent on a project elsewhere. If it's spent elsewhere, it will have to be factored into the next budget, and the next, and the next, until it is utilised. The uncertainty that comes with that is not acceptable to any economist within the government and would not be accepted by the general public outside of our region.
The Entertainment Precinct has been consulted on, designed, costed and now just awaits final approval to be shovel ready. This process has taken almost 20 years (yes that's right, 20 years). A new facility for the Arts was looked at during the Tom Pyne years, the Kevin Byrne years and now we are looking at it yet again. The cost has changed over the years. Not necessarily less than the current cost either. Kevin Byrne's Council costed it at 200 million for a building and had no government funding to help with the cost. The type of building and it's position has also been altered each time but the basic idea that we need a centre for the arts and our Civic Theatre needs replacing has been acknowledged for decades. Almost from the moment the Civic Theatre was built it was accepted as inadequate.
During the past month I have received invitations to 24 exhibitions, plays, comedy shows, music performances and children's entertainment. Several where held at the Civic Theatre, others at various places around the region. Those who are claiming the need is not there have not been noticing the sold out shows, the plethora of festival activity and the multitude of events specifically related to the Arts. We have a thriving arts community in our region and they deserve a place to showcase their talents while the rest of us deserve a place of comfort and beauty to watch them.
Should we have a sporting facility built in our region? Yes. This city may well be artistic but it is also a sporting community and deserves a decent stadium for national sporting events and our own sporting endeavours. We have a history of performing well in regional and national competition so we know the need is there.
What is not there however, is the plan. While the Precinct has gone through years of planning, costing and design, the sports stadium has not. The consultation process for the stadium began recently and the early results are already being collated. This process takes 12-18 months. Then the design stage will occur which can take anywhere from 6-12 weeks. More consultation on design followed by costing analysis takes a further 6 months. Lobbying governments to help bear the cost could begin almost immediately but gaining any funding would not be achieved overnight.
This process is a long and necessary one.
If we chose to build a smaller building as a replacement theatre only, not a full Precinct, and we built a 10'000 seat stadium at the same time, we would perhaps get to keep the government money for the theatre and may still come in at a similar cost for both. However, both would be inadequate to our needs, current and future. Both would not start until the final stage of planning was completed on the stadium, at least 2 years away. Essentially, we would not be getting either of the facilities this community actually needs.
Here's what I believe we should do.
We should build the Precinct NOW. Add a large screen to one wall but other than that, either design is a good one. If the building started in October/November, it would take 12-18 months to complete. While we are waiting for the completion of the Precinct, plan for a sports stadium. One that seats 15-20'000 and encompasses a multi-sport arena, with added bars and restaurant etc. This process takes 18-24 months. Making it ready to commence at around the same time the Entertainment Precinct is completed.
This suggestion would give long term jobs to the construction industry. It would give the residents both facilities of an international standard and it will allow for the other tiers of government to factor in additional funding for each facility, making building them this way more financially viable as well.
I remain hopeful that the Precinct will not be derailed. If we lose the opportunity to have it all because we were too frightened to take the final step and start the building, the missed opportunity will cause a revolt. Those who have been waiting all these years for a Precinct to be built have been silently watching this process with hope and a sense of victory. If that hope is removed, you can guarantee they will remain silent no longer.
I urge all local residents to get behind this project. If you don't think it's a facility you will utilise and would like a stadium, let the Precinct be built for those who will use it and make sure you are vocal throughout the planning process for a stadium. Your time will come. Let the Arts Community have theirs.