Arts/Music/Film, Opinion/Comment

“A City Hill Cultural Center could have been the envy of many” – Part 2 – but where is the entertainment centre?

The following was originally written in 2017 for the City Hill Supporters Group prior to the Coffs Harbour City Council deciding to focus on Gordon Street for a cultural center in spite of City Hill having being gifted to the city by the government for a cultural center.

Given recent discussions on this site about the history of City Hill it is published in public now to add more to what we already know.

This is Part 2 – Part 1 can be found here:

By Ron Sims

With Part 1 fresh in your mind, here are some nuts and bolts of my observations. To even begin looking at the ‘design elements’ of the Cultural Centre, I have first asked myself, “what might be the Centre’s purpose?”  Or, perhaps, better still, “what are the most important purposes for the Centre?

For me, a Cultural Hub should provide much the same as a Sporting Hub provides for sporting pursuits within a community: the centre should be an inspiration within the cultural community. It should provide appropriate process facilities for cultural practitioners, teachers, their students and visiting ‘artists in residence’.

And, it should provide excellent display and performance spaces for the realisation and presentation of product. So, there are those three stages again, exactly the same as we see in a sporting stadium, though the cultural facility will look very different, and require a very different  range of specific qualities. Low external noise levels (some peace and quiet), high aesthetic appeal (architectural and surrounds)  with all disciplines together (cross-fertilising) is the way to go. (note: the ideal arrangement at WAAPA in Western  Australia, based on the ethos “the pursuit of excellence.”)

  • Let’s consider the process stage firstly. On a day-to-day basis this is the vital one…the most useful and rewarding one for the community. It also embodies a great deal of the inspirational, because, like the sporting facility, this is where the young, the students, the up-and -coming practitioners of the future are nurtured and trained. This is where the national and international, cultural ‘stars’ are grown.
Bunbury Entertainment Centre

The Cultural Centre, like the one in Bunbury, in regional WA (pictured above) will see a lot of young people, school children, moving in and out of the facility, daily. They will attend one or more of several dance colleges already operating (in totally inadequate spaces) within the Coffs region.  The Centre will provide properly equipped and ‘sprung’ spaces of varying sizes for their instruction, rehearsal and presentation of final works. The full, regional awards competitions for   dance could possibly be staged in one of the Centre’s larger, general theatre spaces. These dance rooms will be in a peaceful and quite surround, will be acoustically treated and be situated for the safe delivery and pick-up, at the door, of the children by their parents.

Other children will attend the ‘Young Actors Studio’ group for instruction, work-shopping and rehearsal. Again in an acoustically treated space within quiet surrounds. Their rehearsal space would also be suitable for ‘acting for camera and microphone’. At present in Coffs there is no suitable, affordable space, I am told, for young actor development.

Voice and music (groups and soloists) would have access to several dedicated, sound-proofed, acoustic rooms for their work-shopping and rehearsal. These spaces could be sought after by visiting performers as well as the local students and practitioners.

A Cultural Centre’s theatre space would be available for their performance as well as, of course, for visiting acoustic, variety and theatrical performances of all kinds.

Visual artists will access several ‘artist-in residence-style’ work-stations and rooms to develop up particular projects. Sculptural works will be presented, on a turn-around basis, in the sculpture gardens of the Centre, or in one of the two galleries set aside for local community exhibition. A fully equipped and modern main gallery will also exhibit regional and further-afield works.

Further to the above, some general meeting and display rooms will be available for groups and visiting artists-in- residence to up-date and inspire others with creative show-and-tells. These spaces will be available to all ‘members’ and ‘friends’ of the Cultural Centre.

  • Let’s move on to the next stage… product.

Most creative processes do culminate with a product… a product to be presented, performed or exhibited in a manner best suited to the particular discipline.

Even students in all the arts pursuits have their  ‘shows’, ‘exhibitions’ and ‘competitions’. Some of these already hold competitions in Coffs Harbour from a broad area of the region, and student numbers are in the many hundreds… and of course growing as the region grows.


The proposed Gordon Street cultural and council chambers centre

So… of enormous worth to the Cultural Centre, essential in fact, will be the gallery and theatre spaces. Not only must these be fully adequate to present the local, cultural product but also be easily capable of hanging and staging touring state and national exhibitions and shows, of many types. Imagine how such ‘state-of-the-art’ facilities will boost inspiration, cultural access and respect within the community and far abroad… how far would you like to dream? At present Coffs is missing so much simply because there is not the calibre of staging venues available.

The Cultural Centre should be looking at least 5 decades into the future… as fully as projection statistics will allow. The great joy is that the Centre is located on an unfettered piece of land so that it may expand in stages and spread its wings in a purely physical way as well as in a creative way… this is an ideal situation. The site allows generously for outdoor ‘garden’ exhibition and performance spaces to add flexibility and uniqueness to the art of product presentation. And, of real value, patrons’ and members’ parking is right there, at the front door, and can expand with ease as the demand by gallery and theatre goers, arts practitioners and students grows… which it will. A consciously planned and designed Cultural Centre on such a magnificent site is bound to attract activity, energy and people… for now and times to come… a thing of inspiration, functionality and pride.

I have not included a library complex within my discussion above.  I am certain that such a necessary facility would be vital within the community and would be placed comfortably within the Centre complex… as indeed would culture-specific retail outlets, restaurants and cafes (food culture) arts supply and local-arts retail shops etc. etc. However all of these are outside this discussion,  and outside my specified area of knowledge… so I will leave these to others.

Hopefully I have been able to set up some realistic topics and benchmarks in this brief discussion, to suggest possibilities and especially to create the ethos of the courage, imagination and knowledge that should be employed in creating such a powerfully worthwhile and effective ‘creative icon’ within the Coffs Community.    




Ron Sim’s Credentials

Diploma in Stage and Studio Techniques

Degree in Fine Arts

Post Graduate degree in English… Film and Television

30 years with ABC, RN… sound designer, script writer, director, drama and features producer

Twice winner, the World Gold Medal  in Radio Features.  New York, USA

Churchill Fellowship awarded for developmental production of ‘Son et Lumiere’ Theatre… writer, director.

10 years head lecturer and course originator in Sound Production and Design at WAAPA  (WA Academy of Performing Arts).

5 years specialist teacher (middle-upper primary), Drama and Visual Art.

Co-author and illustrator of the book ‘Kangaroo Virus’, shortlisted for the Premier’s Award


Editor’s note: 25-6-2019. It is worth drawing your attention to the fact Mr Sims said; “of enormous worth to the Cultural Centre, essential in fact, will be the gallery and theatre spaces.” Well in the current $75m proposal for Gordon Street there is a library, museum and Council chambers.

No entertainment center, theatre or precinct.

When the Mayor first ran for her current position she argued her most important campaign promise would be to get an entertainment centre built.

No entertainment centre/theatre worth the name is in the current Gordon Street proposal.

There was some talk of an interim one being built elsewhere in an existing premises but that seems to have ‘gone off the boil’. There is some talk of an entertainment ‘space’ about the size of a modest house in Gordon Street but hardly a structure that would attract large shows and give the much vaunted boost to our local arts and tourism industries.

Here’s what the Mayor had to say about an Entertainment Centre back in 2013;

So what gives? And are we really getting value for $75m at ‘today’s current prices’?



  1. Ann Leonard

    This is a project totally lacking in knowledge and understanding of the personal relationship individuals build with their cultural institutions. It is a project which takes the certainty that art and culture will take us to a place beyond the mundane to a place of personal immersion in wonder at an emotional, sensory and intellectual level and juxtaposes it with the daily grind of paying bills or a negotiating a development application. There is no lead in to this other than under a fig tree shielding the centre from an enormous car park. All of this after negotiating the busyness if CBD traffic during business hours to get there. Where is the major drawcard that would expose our visitors to the city to the wonder of our hinterland and coastline. That which is to be imagined by the lines and colour of a building which is predominately office space and customer service for centre. Is this really what Coffs Harbour has been asked to wait 40 to 50 years for. A lot of window dressing it seems but not really offering up more than what we have now. It is a very expensive rearrangement in a brand new coat and a wasted opportunity to lift Coffs Harbour to the next level in its growth. Brisbane’s South Bank and Hobart’s MONA are testament to what great vision can bring to a community.

  2. Rikki Bekker

    And now we get to the ‘nub’ of the issue.

    Denise Knight campaigned hard on an Entertainment Centre as her signature issue and as something that she wanted to leave the city when she retired she said. It still does not exist. Not even ‘on paper’ from what I can see.

    So where is it Mayor Knight?

    Yet in the meantime a building proposed for a lot in Gordon Street Council could not sell in 2012 and that started out as a $35m library, art gallery and museum near the CBD, and spurning the gifted City Hill, has become a $75m, and steadily growing in cost, ‘Council Chambers/Cultural Centre’ .

    The rationale behind this change, as presented to Councillors in 2017, turns out to be impossible to ascertain because the relevant appendices to the Council papers was ‘confidential and in camera’ from what I can see. That is just too ‘fishy’ for words in my opinion and ratepayers could be left ‘carrying the can’ should anything go wrong.

    This is the opaque ‘state of play’ here in Coffs Harbour with our Council. It strikes me that the tale is wagging the dog here in that paid employees seem to be potentially ‘pulling the wool over the eyes’ of our elected representatives. Some of whom need to be far more alert, Councillors Amos and Townley excepted.

    This is manifestly not good enough.

  3. Max Brinsmead

    I am always deeply suspicious of public servants who elect to house themselves in luxury at our expense. City Hill offers an unparalleled opportunity for providing inspiration for all the citizens of Coffs Harbour. This is where the money should be spent.

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