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.
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.
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.
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?
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@example.com <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Monday, 8 July 2019 4:58 PMTo: email@example.com
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.
Coffs Harbour Chamber of Commerce
M: 0418 611 790