Saturday, August 27, 2011

To entertain or not to entertain? The Entertainment Precinct.

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.


  1. The community lobby for a modern museum is 40 years old, and a new community theatre, 20 years old. Frankly, I believe if there is a change of State Government, before construction starts, the $40 million state funding will be withdrawn and disappear into the black hole called "South East corner." While the opponents of the Entertainment Precinct celebrate their victory, Cairns will be left with an inadequate and rapidly deteriorating community theatre, an inadequate convention centre, and no regional museum. Of course, Townsville will automatically pick up the slack, and will host the larger, more prestigious world conventions with all its spin offs, as well as capturing the domestic market with cultural tourism. Cairns people will do then what they do best, whinge and whine and moan, but no Government will allocate the same amount of funding to us again, not for many years. We will in effect be left with the current Civic Theatre, outdated convention facility and no museum for many many more years.

  2. You are right Alison. If the Government funding is withdrawn, it will be years, even decades before we get another allocationof funding from the Governments. Governments just cannot "cough up" money like this, at will.

  3. If the above scenario happens, then Townsville will develop a lead over Cairns in the manner of convention and cultural tourism that we will never be able to catch up to. The financial loss to Cairns and the tourist industry will in fact be far greater than the $40 million. Sad, but I can see it happening.

  4. If the funding is withdrawn, Cairns will be the sorry loser. The opponents of the Entertainment Precinct have no foresight or vision. A bit like the opponents of the new hospital back in the 1990s, no foresight whatsoever, just huge flapping mouths.

  5. I'm not sure you have the full facts?
    The only currently committed funds are the $40m from the Federal Government. That still leaves a $200m shortfall. So for CRC to commit based just on what they have now would be financial lunacy. To begin work in "October/November" without these commitments for the remainder would be sheer madness and with a potential enormous contingent exposure for ratepayers.

    The State Government recently confirmed it will only provide funding on the basis that the Federal Government and the Council provide a third each. So that means CRC needs an extra $40m pledge from the Federal Government before the State will provide its $80m share. Even so CRC will still need to fund $80m. Together with the projected operating losses plus depreciation this will have an enormous impact on rates.

    While these subsidies do make the precinct less expensive for Council they don’t necessarily make it affordable. Our Council should not be ashamed to say ‘no’ to a subsidy if the remaining net cost is still too high for ratepayers. That’s just proper, prudent and disciplined financial management.
    Yes it would be good to have a $240m complex and if it was entirely funded by external parties few would object. But let’s keep it in perspective and consider this simple example. Just as it would be nice to have a Lamborghini of a cultural centre even with a 2/3rds subsidy it’s still more expensive than a Mercedes version which will more than meet our needs and will be cheaper to run. Bear in mind that Council will be responsible for the full running costs, maintenance and depreciation for the whole complex not just the 1/3rd it funded.
    Rates will be at least $100 pa higher than otherwise. Turning down a subsidy is not something to be ashamed of... it's the net cost is what is important.

  6. If you only ever look at the "net cost" you miss the point. This is valid if you are in business but is not really relevant for Governments; nothing would ever get built.

    When you build a building of this magnitude you are looking at a 50 to 100 year life span (yes suitable for your children and grandchildren).
    You are not building a luxury building, you need a building that will service the needs of ALL the community and provide an economic benefit to the area for a considerable number of years.

    If the facilities don't stack up then it will soon become a white elephant. This can not be allowed to happen, so the best rigour needs to be placed on getting the finest architectural design and integration of acoustics, and theatre facilities to make this a world class venue that Cairns can be proud of.

    Cultural venues don't make money directly, but they cause a huge spin off for the local economy. Governments are not there to 'make money" they are to provide infrastructure for the general wealth of the community and economic well being.

    How about getting out of your comfort zone and saying "yes this is good for me and my grandchildren, how can we move this forward". Provide positive criticism rather than harping on about the negatives. Oh and by the way lets all put effort to supporting a new sporting facility.
    There is nothing like the power of positive thinking.
    I thought Queensland is the "first" state not the "last" state. It takes people with guts and foresight to see projects like this through and it needs community support otherwise you can look back to the good old days while everyone else is moving forward.

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