“Around 400,000 visitors a year to the new Cultural and Civic Centre in Gordon Street?” Let’s give that claim a reality check

On Monday 8 July roughly four days prior to Councillors voting on the Gordon Street complex the Coffs Harbour Chamber of Commerce sent out an open letter to the business community of Coffs Harbour in support of the proposal.

By the Editor

Claims stating the proposed centre would be worth an ongoing $2million per annum to the local economy, that the City Centre would in turn stimulate economic activity and prosperity and that the project would generate 555 construction and 31 ongoing jobs were among numerous other claims that were made (see the email which is published in full below).

All these are pretty bold claims and hopefully will be looked at in future articles.  But the one that really caught our attention was this one;

            “Annual visitation of around 400.000 people per annum.”

OK, so let’s presume the Centre won’t be open 24/7, 365 days of the year. Let’s assume it will be closed Sundays and public holidays although the Civic Centre component will probably only be open Monday to Friday for approximately 48 weeks of the year with public holidays being accounted for.  So the Cultural Centre component would be open for approximately 285 days.

That is 1,403 individual visitors a day on average.

Is this realistic?  Two people interviewed for this article have worked in art galleries and museums in the past. One in a senior role at the Australian Museum in Sydney and the other in an advisory role to the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) in Darwin.

The first informed the Coffs Coast Outlook that the Australian Museum (AM) would struggle to get 400,000 visitors in most years and that is usually with high powered well known expensive exhibitions at that. The data is publicly available. For example in 2017 473,687 people visited the Museum, a 7% increase on 2016. 

This was partly due to exhibitions such as Mammoths – Giants of the Ice Age exhibition (pictured below) featuring a 42,000 year-old baby mammoth from Siberia which attracted almost 150,000 visitors and T.Rex and Supercroc on Tour which featured at Stockland shopping centres across NSW extending the AM’s outreach to Western Sydney and regional NSW and helping to increase the visitor count as a result.

Mammoths of the Ice Age helped drive AM visitor numbers to almost 480,000 a 7% increase on the previous year. This is the kind of exhibit Coffs Harbour would need in order to get around 400,000 vistors to Gordon Street a year

Dr Iain Waller who was interviewed from Darwin said the best the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) in Darwin had done was 390,000 a year with a major internationally known exhibition.  The average was more like 320,000 per annum, and some years were as low as 285,000. Again these figures are backed up by publicly available data. In 2017-18 317,116 visitors went to MAGNT venues..  The average is slightly less than Uluru.

MAGNT in Darwin

Both these places are in capital cities. 

Both have international airports and other attractions such as the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, and a famous harbour in Sydney and well known night markets and Kakadu nearby for Darwin. As well as numerous other associated tourism icons. 

In other words they could offer a full tourism package.

In addition, they only get numbers near what is being claimed for Gordon Street when offering expensive travelling exhibitions that require specialist support, security and humidity control and which often have large Government subsidies too. 

Both are physically four to five times bigger than what is being proposed for Gordon Street.

The same arguments also apply to MONA near Hobart (pictured below) – which is privately funded and has approximately 1,900 works of high value art valued at over $100 million. Mona attracted 350,000 visitors in 2017-18.

MONA near Hobart. It is 11.5 kilometers from the city centre.

And unlike Gordon Street none of these three institutions have Council Administration offices attached to them in any way which arguably might deter tourists. 

They are stand-alone entities.

Is the City Council in Coffs Harbour proposing to attract the likes of Tutankhamen’s relics, or Rembrandt, Picasso or Salvador Dali type art exhibitions? 

What sort of exhibits of art and history are needed to attract 400,000 visitors?

Because all the research shows that is what they would need to do to get close to 400,000 visitors a year.  And that also requires a huge capital outlay and a massive investment in tourism infrastructure and associated tourism attractors.

If the aim on the other hand is to encourage and showcase our region’s history and artistic talent, then great, no problem.  But if so then the numbers being cited need to be way more realistic.

But the figures cited from the email below would then look much different of course.  Perhaps optimistically 50,000 a year.   

And that is what is more than a bit concerning.  Were those suspiciously heroic figures of 400,000 used in order to help make the business case for the proposed Gordon Street Cultural and Civic Centre? If those figures were crucial then there is a danger what is proposed could look like this;

One last thing.  We know not all tourists come by car and not all visitors to the Cultural and Civic Centre will either.  But it would seem around 650 car parks over and above what is currently in place might be needed for 400,000 visitors. 

Recently approximately 500 people went to an event at Cex one evening and we are reliably informed parking was at an absolute premium that night. So around 650 new car parks may need to be considered. 

Has something like that been costed as part of the proposal?

Details about the Coffs Coast Outlook and its editorial staff can be found here; https://coffscoastoutlook.com.au/about-us-faq/

The open letter from the Coffs Harbour Chamber of Commerce to the local business community is published below.


From: [email protected] <[email protected]>

Sent: Monday, 8 July 2019 4:58 PMTo: [email protected]

Subject: Open letter to Business Community re the Cultural & Civic Space

On behalf of the Chamber, I write to you to bring to your attention to a very important decision being tabled this week at Councils 11 July meeting. Our elected Councillors all have a regionally significant, and term-defining decision to make that will have direct impact on the economic prosperity (or otherwise) not only of our City, but also of the businesses and families that operate and live within it, and our region. We ask that you read the following and lend your support!

As we have throughout the project the Chamber of Commerce is supporting the construction of the Cultural & Civic Space given its significant potential benefits versus the concerns around cost (which has been carefully considered versus economic benefit). Assurances have been provided that the project will not impact, nor require special rate variations to achieve based on the sale of assets, lending and funds available. All this is predicated without the possibility of State and Federal grant support/funding of what is a regionally significant cultural, educational, and social project.

Significant pieces of infrastructure that add exponential opportunity and stimulus are never low cost. Yes there are, and we acknowledge, concerns around a $76m project price-tag however financial modelling of all scenarios (do nothing, renovate current spaces, construct this project) are all within a variance of about 3% of the quoted construction costs for a new site that delivers much more opportunity to the business, cultural, social, educational and growth story of the Coffs Harbour LGA. Having researched, and consulted with numerous parties we believe the cost of NOT proceeding with the project in full will be far more costly to the local economy, local businesses, jobs growth, and social benefit.  

This City has been, and still can be grown off the back of sound, decisive and brave leadership that creates a legacy. Think about Karangi Dam, International Stadium, Airport, Hogbin Drive, retention basins, Jetty Foreshores. These didn’t happen without opposition and concern however those civic leaders that were brave enough to commit to what they knew was a decision for the greater good of this City now hold their heads high knowing they have left a legacy for current and future generations. Our choice is to be remembered as change-makers or a hindrance to prosperity, opportunity, city centre activation, cultural significance, and business sustainability. A vote against this project will be recorded in history as a vote against these very ideals and we will be sure to maintain accountability.

There are several Councillors wavering in their support for the project and its benefits and we would urge you to please contact all Councillors direct on the below emails with your personal call to action if you also see these benefits. There will be no second chance if it fails to be supported and the City, and local economy will be constrained by further failures to act for the greater good. We absolutely respect everyone’s right to your opinion and it may well not align, however if you would like to discuss or further understand the Chamber’s position please don’t hesitate to reach out to me for a discussion.

[email protected]

[email protected]

[email protected]

[email protected]

[email protected]

[email protected]

[email protected]

[email protected]

Kind regards,

Martin Wells


Coffs Harbour Chamber of Commerce

M: 0418 611 790

Email: [email protected] 


  1. An extremely well-researched and well-constructed article. To use MONA as an example. Yes, MONA does attract about 350,000 visits per annum in a City of 220,000 people (Population of Coffs sits around 76,000). MONA has transformed Hobart and the rest of Tasmania has benefitted. Can Coffs Harbour attract 400,000 people to a gallery space? Maybe. Maybe not. 8,000 people through the door, week in and week out, is no mean feat. MONA is a UNIQUE offering. MONA has an outdoor performance space, winery, outstanding restaurants, superb service and vibrant green space to attract locals on the weekends to chill as well as EXCEPTIONAL ACCOMMODATION. Festivals are conducted throughout the year in the City centre to connect with the locals. With HYPE comes people. The proposed Civic & Cultural space in Gordon Street lacks any opportunities for a “real public space”, a public realm or something truly unique. The location restricts the ancillary spaces that generate people, performance space and areas to attract locals on the weekends, “the public spaces”. The Councillors have an absolute duty to “act in the best interests of the people”. There are sufficient funds to redevelop the existing Chambers in order to consolidate the business of Council and there is the DUTY/the COVENANT/the PLEDGE to develop CITY HILL for the benefit of the people. The gift of land was made to the people of Coffs Harbour for specific purposes. Those purposes need to be fulfilled and the Councillors have a duty to put their minds to the development of a Centre of Excellence on CITY HILL.

  2. If it wasn’t so serious, it would be laughable. A great piece of distilling the rubbery numbers of Mr Wells. There’d be a queue of people lining up to get the Coffee franchise. Funny Tea wasn’t mentioned in such a fine economic statement. But what we really need to see is a breakdown of the $2M pa. economic benefit to the city. Small beer compared to initial outlay of >$86M plus road and car parking infrastructure upgrading (so far not taken into account). But of course, one just cannot put a price on having much happier public servants toiling away on our behalf working up 800 page reports to present to Councillors to read. And besides, just think of the extra coffee consumption.

    Oh and by the way, just to mention, the cost of cleaning Port Macquarie’s Glasshouse is $2M.

    Time to get real here guys…!!!
    Find and recruit top-draw Senior Council staff, more suitable than who’s there now and get on with proper visionary planning for a 21st century city with enormous potential.

    Plus get on with creating incentives for specialist businesses and companies to relocate to the Coffs Coast. Without a growing population of “do’ers” and investors, we’re stuck.

  3. Riki Bekker

    I wonder if the local Chamber of Commerce will help subsidise the Coffe shop I’m thinking of buying now i’ve read their email? 😉

  4. Gabrielle Brabander

    Let us put into perspective the statistics used by the Chamber of Commerce…
    MONA in Hobart is a world renowned privately funded museum with 1900 works valued at over $100 million (2011), and in 2016 had an estimated 370,000 visitors. Locals already access our Council, library and art gallery in the CBD, so where are these additional 400,000 people coming from?
    Locals are acutely aware of the current parking difficulties within the CBD during business hours. The fact car parking has been deemed suitable, would not indicate an additional 400,000 people per year will be accessing this building.
    In its current form, this project is a new Council Administration Building with some cultural facilities attached, in an attempt to make it more palatable to community. Jobs and construction benefits will still be realised from a project in a more suitable location with a proper focus on arts and entertainment. As would refurbishment of current council facilities.
    The CBD has a plethora of vacant premises, and the Chamber of Commerce has reason to be concerned. Imminent developments such as the Airport Enterprise Park (incorporating a technology precinct and commercial outlets), and jetty developments will compete directly for investors and visitors. After 5pm on a weekday, and midday on a Saturday, the CBD will always be empty; it will never be able to compete with the beach, mountains and outdoor lifestyle we all live here for.
    The goal is construction of an extensive, expensive infrastructure project driven by CBD business under the guise of a civic and cultural space. It is not a genuine commitment to the arts and will not attract vast numbers of visitors. Community are fed up with our rates being continually used to continually try to reinvigorate the CBD.

  5. Congratulations CCO, having a sensible, unbiased public voice is appreciated. I cannot better the responsible and well researched comments of the other contributors, other than to comment on the local Chamber of Commerce. Post the period of Peter Lubans, the Chamber hardly represents the local business community and if it did there would be little opportunity for other groups such as BNI and other cooperative business to business initiatives.

    It is telling that the Chamber could not, did not or would not analyse Council’s false and plainly deceptive figures. There is no doubt the figures were intended to induce public support and this is simply wrong! Wrong that Council’s General Manager would release the figures and wrong for trying to mislead the public.

    Everyone should remember that only a few years ago Council was effectively broke, retrenching staff to save costs, applying to IPart for successive yearly rate increases and misleadingly suggesting the CBD Special Rates were new funding, when in fact they were just a continuation of past payments for preferential treatment. Add to that, the State and Federal Governments have both refused Council grants for the project.

    Finally, I remind people that Council’s initial 2014 cost estimate for the project was $35million! Five years on and having already unjustifiably wasted $2million of ratepayers money, the current estimate is well beyond 200% of the original and climbing. Remember a jetty Park that somehow cost $9million? I know there has been a suggestion circulating to approach the State Government to suspend the Council, but I think the whole LGA would be well served by replacing our General Manager with it.

  6. Well said and put Sir. You have made it clear the LGA would be better served with a new General Manager. A GM of any Council should not serve any longer than two terms.

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