Coffs Coast Business, Local, Opinion/Comment

City Hill, Coffs Harbour – Part 4. And Gordon Street

Over the past week the history and future of City Hill has been presented in three parts. This is the final installment in this story.

We also look at what is happening with the Gordon Street proposal at the end of this final part of Margaret’s story.

By Margaret Beckett

Chapter 4.

A newspaper item in 2012 has a picture of Mayor Knight with the report that she thinks City Hill was a great cultural site”.  Sadly newcomers to Council changed all that.

Nevertheless supporters of City Hill had hope that private action may persuade Council that people believed The Hill is important.

CULTURAL BATTLE: In a recommendation, Rigby House will be sold or leased as part of an upgrade for a potential entertainment precinct at Gordon St. Coffs Harbour MP Andrew Fraser meanwhile argued City Hill would be a better suited site. Trevor Veale – The Coffs Coast Advocate (see below)

In 2014 , Frances Blake hired a room at the Cex Club and placed an advert in the Monday paper for a meeting on Wednesday night . Even with so little notice about 30 people came.  

So another meeting was advertised for the following Wed. This time double the number. A committee was formed to expand public awareness  of the asset  owned and dedicated to us for a Cultural Precinct. 

However this moment in time was not in our favour.

 Mass communication was now available to all. Council was armed with the full battery of the latest technology. Sadly those of us from the heady days of visionary leaders were not so well armed.

Nevertheless “we band of brothers and sisters” were inspired by outsiders. People had moved to Coffs from as far away as WA and the UK.  They were amazed that nothing was being done with City Hill.  Their technical expertise in cultural development left no doubt as to the tremendous asset we have.  

We even had world class architects offering to provide advice pro bono. We had statements of intent and a date to commence. Then the ‘unknown power(s)’ stopped the momentum. Again.

There is too much at stake to allow unknown persons or groups  to sabotage the plan. In time and with Council and citizens pulling together, we could have a cultural Centre of Excellence which we believe would be a reason in itself to visit Coffs Harbour .  

City Hill, if developed as envisaged, has the potential to make our city a destination many would want to come to.

A place with so much to see and learn from that we could only grow into that “Queen City“ as envisaged by the men of inspiring vision as outlined in the earlier installments of this story.

Hope Springs Eternal

Editors note: The following story from The Coffs Coast Advocate in May 2017 covers many of the arguments put to Council back in 2017 about City Hill v Gordon Street as an area for the Coffs Harbour Culture Center:

“City Hill v Gordon St: Where’s best for arts precinct?


by K Elder

10th May 2017 11:05 AM 23

AHEAD of Thursday’s council meeting Coffs Harbour MP Andrew Fraser urged councillors to consider City Hill as the best place for a cultural precinct.

Mr Fraser said City Hill was originally set out for this purpose and funds had been allocated by a previous council for this site to be developed as a cultural precinct.

“City Hill would give the opportunity not only for performing arts and visual arts, but also for any cultural activities and the precinct could be developed progressively as funds and the community need arose,” Mr Fraser said.

“City Hill is less than 1km from the city centre and could provide an opportunity for a hotel, which could accommodate anyone wishing to utilise the centre and at the same time provide a continuing income for the arts precinct, through a lease or commercial arrangement made with council.”

Mr Fraser also argued the site at City Hill had a strong historical relevance to Coffs Harbour, in relation to the Second World War bunker which now serves as the Bunker Cartoon Gallery.

In the council agenda for Thursday’s meeting, a recommendation has been put forward that councillors confirm a cultural and civic precinct at the 23-31 Gordon St site.

The recommendation includes scope for a new central library, regional gallery, customer service, council chambers and council staff office accommodation.

A mixed and civic use investigation offered three options which all included selling or renting Rigby House and upgrades expected to cost upwards of $35 million.

  • Option 1: Upgrade to 23-31 Gordon St to include library, gallery, front counter/customer service and council chambers. Cost: about $18 million. Refurbishment of existing council administration building. Cost: about $2.7 million.
  • Option 2: Upgrade to 23-31 Gordon St to include library, gallery, front counter/customer service and council chambers. As well as that, include built-to-order office accommodation (approximately 3200sqm) for mixed use tenants. Cost: about $35 million. Refurbishment of existing council administration building. Cost: about $2.7 million.
  • Option 3: Upgrade to 23-31 Gordon St library, gallery, customer service and council chambers, and council staff office accommodation. Cost: about $35 million. Council administrative staff, currently at Rigby House, moves to 23-31 Gordon St.

Mr Fraser said such an upgrade in the CBD would likely create problems with parking, especially when events clashed with others at C.ex Coffs.

“I urge councillors to consider City Hill as the best alternative and to remind them that this land was originally sold to Coffs Harbour City Council, at a discount rate, with a view to utilising the area for arts and cultural activities,” he said.



So what is the situation now?

(1) The Council essentially disagreed with Mr Fraser and supporters of City Hill and voted for Options 2 and/or 3 as outlined above. There was no mention of new Council Administrative Chambers in any of the above options. $35m was the price for the new cultural center.

(2) In 2018 Council was persuaded to change this and vote for a new $75m Cultural Center plus new Administration-Council Chambers as part of the building. This is an increase of $40m, or approximately 47%, over the original proposed building for Gordon Street.

(3) It needs to be remembered that 23-31 Gordon Street was originally voted in 2012 to be sold as a plot of land. This motion was moved by then Cr Denise Knight, soon to become Mayor Knight, and seconded by then Cr Kerry Hines. This sale never happened to our knowledge. Outlook reported on this here:

(4) In order to part fund the new $75m Cultural Center/Chambers Rigby House was given an upgrade and it was hoped to be sold for $20m. As of today that sale has not occurred to our knowledge.

The proposed new $75m Gordon Street Building

(5) It is now believed by many that the Coffs Harbour City Council is relying on the lease/privatisation of the airport and the associated ‘Technology Park’ land at the northern end of the airport to provide funding for the new $75m Gordon Street building.

However, Outlook understands that the tender process for the airport may not have gone to plan. Which leads to the following questions;

Is it true that no tenders for the airport were received by the recent tender close off date?

Is it also true the tender process has now been extended out until later this year?

Editors note, 19 June 2019: The following picture and sub-heading was sent as a comment by Max but can’t be reproduced in the comments section below the picture,



  1. Riki Bekker

    So every ‘plan’ the Council has had to fund the ‘white elephant’ in Gordon Street has so far proven to be a ‘damp squib’? Have I got that right?

  2. City Hill provides a unique opportunity to enhance the cultural life of Coffs Harbour. This deserves precedence over a palace for bureaucrats on Gordon Street.

  3. This Council and Senior Management lost credibility a long time ago and are so way out of touch with those who they’re meant to represent. On this basis, it’s hard to imagine them lasting much longer without authorities stepping in and dismissing them. Gordon Street just like Port’s Glasshouse will be one Part of the undoing.
    It’s your city, your life, your future, your money – help create it.
    If you’re a reader of this, give it a tick ✔️

  4. You have a tick from me.
    Janne C Lindrum

  5. Marie Moran

    I have always felt strongly in favour of an entertainment, cultural, arts centre at City Hill. It’s not rocket science to see the practical side for space and parking. I have seen this type of centre in other countries work well. I agree the library, council chambers would be better placed in Gordon Street. Don’t make the mistake Port Macquarie made with their beautiful entertainment centre in town. A practical nightmare for parking.

  6. Rob Trezise

    As a long term resident and supporter of the arts and history of Coffs Harbour I urge all residents and my interested followers to read all four parts of this series written by Margaret Beckett as published in Coffs Harbour’s alternative on line news source, Coffs Coast Outlook.
    A decision has been made by Council, that will benefit very few people, except some CBD property owners, to locate the Council offices, chambers, art gallery, library and museum, at great expense ($85+ million and counting) to Gordon Street in the CBD. Although Council owns City Hill, it has ignored the enormous potential of City Hill, by opting for this expensive CBD venture. Future generations will have to live with the cost and unsuitability of this foolish decision, unless people power and wiser heads put a stop to this madness that our Council continues to follow despite all the warnings.
    We need the Federal & State Governments to step in, refuse funding for Gordon Street and ensure that City Hill is the preferred site. Unless this Council heeds them, this Council and senior staff should be warned that dismissal is a very real option. I can no longer support this Council and its wanton abuse of ratepayers money with its headlong rush to build Gordon St monolith over City Hill. We need to hear your voices raised, it is not too late to stop now.
    (Originally published in Facebook site of Outlook)

  7. Chris Bramley

    Well said Rob. For decades the sole focus and special rates have been squandered on the CBD with little tangible results. The number of empty shops are testimony to failed favouritism.

    The city badly needs much smarter leadership that represents the whole of the LGA.

  8. Carolyn 'Caz' Abrahams

    An entertainment precinct at Gordon st. What on earth are they thinking????
    The library and art gallery are barely accessible now and they want to put an entertainment precinct there! I don’t think they could’ve found any where worse to put it tbh.
    It’s almost like this council is having a competition to see who can find the worst most inappropriate places to put things.
    (Originally published on Outlook Facebook site)

  9. Al Beaujest

    Yep this Coffs Council under Mayor Knight has no vision of the future.
    So much for City Hill and all that potential compared to another building that will not be able to meet future expectations.
    Why do we have a Council that has no future planning and head strong on wasting what we do have.
    (Originally published on Outlook Facebook site)

  10. Carmel Davy

    For the first time ever I have to agree with Andrew Fraser. City Hill had been allocated as the future cultural centre and does make more sense then Gordon Street.
    And what happened to the money set aside for this project on City Hill??
    (Originally published on Outlook Facebook site)

  11. In my opinion, as a relative newcomer to Coffs Harbour, the Council has an absolute duty to oversee the development of a Centre of Excellence on City Hill; the caveat on the title is evidence of that ‘reality’. What must be seen as a bequest to the people of Coffs Harbour, City Hill is an iconic gateway site that has the potential to put the City of Coffs Harbour on the International map, nurture the artistic soul of the City, create much-needed employment opportunities, provide the City with a ‘unique’ identity, as well as provide a stimulus for the National Cartoon Bunker which currently sits as a crag on a rock. Again, in my opinion, the Council should desist from expenditure of further rate-payer dollars on the Gordon Street site and seriously reflect on its decision making on a multiplicity of fronts.

    It would seem to me that the intelligent pathway is redevelopment of the existing Council Chambers in Coffs Street which serves as a gateway to the commercial hub of the City. Liquidation of Council’s remaining assets would carve a pathway to development of residential product in this precinct to fuel the retail, commercial and hospitality components of the precinct. Possibly Harbour Drive should be closed to traffic, creating an entertainment plaza. Traffic flow via Park in a circular motion to Coffs Street and the Highway and vice versa might alleviate the growing congestion. Another consideration is the stated returns on liquidation of Council’s holdings. It might be helpful to know the source of the valuations. As to how anyone costs a schematic design; e.g. the proposed Gordon Street development, that is an unknown factor. I might be bold enough to suggest rate payers should add at least 1/3rd to the cost, possibly more.

    Insofar as the airport precinct, it is unclear as to whether this precinct is designated business enterprise park ‘as advertised’ or ‘industrial park’. There is a big difference between an enterprise park and an industrial park. If the latter, one would need to see a traffic study to understand the implications of B double movements down Hogbin Drive which I suspect would be totally inconsistent with the development of a Centre of Excellence on City Hill. Interestingly, despite repeated statements from the Business Chamber that Coffs requires 3 x 5 Star hotel facilities, Coffs is poised to lose Marriott Hotels and its 120 million loyalty members because the probity officer appointed by airport management has made the development of a 5 Star hotel in the vicinity of the business enterprise park ‘commercially unviable’. A letter written to Council seeking clarification of issues some five weeks ago now remains ‘unanswered’. That is far from satisfactory, more especially given Lindrum, ARTAS Architects, Marriott Hotels and R & J Consultants have been working towards bringing something wonderful to Coffs for the last 3 years. The lack of VISION is terrifying.

    The only way to a terrific outcome is to MASTER PLAN the City as a whole rather than engage in what is a piece meal operation. Already disconnected and dysfunctional, Coffs needs glue to hold all the pieces together. It’s easy to be enticed to run down rabbit holes, it is not so easy to climb out of them. Let’s hope we don’t look back in two decades and say: “With the benefit of hindsight, we should have Master planned our City”.

    Janne C Lindrum

  12. Monica Joseph

    How much would it cost to build on City Hill? I haven’t seen that cost discussed anywhere.

  13. Hi Monica, The cost of development on City Hill would be dependent upon what was proposed for construction on city; e.g. a Centre of Excellence, hotel, retail/hospitality outlets. What needs to be taken into account is that development of City Hill would (a) create much needed employment in a region with youth unemployment sitting at 24% + (b) generate revenue from the operations on City Hill which would flow through to businesses in the entire City of Coffs Harbour and Coffs Community; (c) serve as a stimulus (create interests) in the National Cartoon Bunker which sits as a crag on a rock; and (d) put Coffs Harbour on the map with a sensational Centre of Excellence at its Gateway. Gateway developments bring people. In my opinion, the proposed Gordon Street development will not bring tourists into that part of the City. The Council Chambers is a space for the operations of business not for tourism. The most intelligent course and the least expensive course for rate payers is the redevelopment of the existing Chambers at the Gateway of the commercial district. Janne C Lindrum

  14. Patricia Deegans

    I think the proposed building in Gordon Street is ridiculous!

  15. I have no problem with the concept or proposed site for the new Cultural Centre. I appreciate the background story to City Hill and the emotional investment a lot of long term locals may have in that site, but I think it is a bit of a stretch to say it is more likely to be used by locals and tourists than the proposed Gordon Street site which already has a multi level car park and other nearby commercial and recreational attractions. I guess it comes down to a question of how many people, and who, currently access our library, gallery, museum and Council chambers, and whether they are more or less likely to utilize the new facilities, and whether those numbers justify the expense. These projects always polarise communities and after they are built , more often than not are accepted for the benefits they provide. From what I have seen the architects are some of the best in the business. City Hill will no doubt find a use one day.

  16. Hello Dave, The caveats on the title of City Hill would suggest that the story behind City Hill is more than a background story. The caveats suggest that there is an absolute obligation to develop a Centre of Excellence on the City Hill site. I do not think anyone is. arguing against the consolidation of the operations of Council business rather the development of a “Civil and Cultural Centre” on Gordon Street abutting an old and ugly multi-storey carpark. Redeveloping the existing Council Chambers at the corner of Coff and Castle Streets would be a far less expensive exercise and would provide an elegant gateway into the CBD precinct. From aerial photographs it is patent the “tourism” precinct runs from the airport to City Hill and from City Hill to the Marina/Jetty precinct whilst the education precinct runs from the C.Ex International Sports Stadium to the Southern Cross University. Education should be in the one location; e.g. a 21st century Information Centre at Southern Cross University + repertory theatre. Tourism should be in the one location; e.g. City Hill Centre of Excellence, 24-hole golf course, National Cartoon Bunker, Business Enterprise Park and Marina/Jetty precinct. Gallery and Museum should be located on City Hill to compliment the National Cartoon Bunker which presently sits as a crag on a rock. CBD precinct is growing as a CBD centre; hospitality/retail etc. The carpark is utilised by customers of the retail and hospitality sectors. I think it highly unlikely that hordes of tourists are going to visit a gallery and museum in an area of the city that is dead after 4.00 pm on a Saturday and like a ghost town after 2.00 pm on a Sunday. Increased tourism to Coffs Harbour will flow from attractions outside the CBD and, especially, from the eventual development of 5-Star Hotel, convention and centre of excellence facilities. Tourists may be drawn into the CBD, of course, with expansion of the C.Ex Club and facilities but I think those tourists will be attracted to facilities provided by the Club and not by a library, gallery and museum operated by a Council in the CBD. Art Galleries, information centres and museums need to be living spaces. CBD’s are operational spaces that live during the business week and die at weekends. Take, as an example, the Art Gallery of NSW, it is located on the outskirts of the Sydney CBD, not inside the Sydney CBD. The Art Gallery of NSW is a highly successful enterprise because it is located on the outskirts of the Sydney CBD and is not intertwined with the operations of Council. There are other pertinent examples. Singapore business district versus tourism district. Hong Kong business district versus tourism district. London business district versus tourism district. New York business district versus tourism district and so on.. It would be a tragedy if the people of Coffs Harbour were to look back in 25 years and say, “What a pity. With the benefit of hindsight, we should have done ‘X’.” Janne C Lindrum

  17. Rob Trezise

    The Town Planning Department and Management of the Coffs Harbour City Council has been a miserable fail for decades.
    With the insight that Janne C Lindrum writes here, along with the reports written by Rod Simms and Margaret Beckett, it is obvious that Dr. Lindrum should be in charge of Town Planning for our Council.
    Dr. Lindrum is no simple ratepayer with gripe against Council, with a history of developing property and creative places she bring experience and wisdom to her vision Coffs Harbour needs, to create its Entertainment Centre, Art Gallery on City Hill.
    While ever this current Council and Senior management are allowed to keep their crazy development on going towards financial ruin for the City, we and future generations will suffer socially and financially for decades hence.
    Our local MPS and Government must pull the reins on this Council; and, if need be dismiss it like it has done elsewhere when Councils and Management go rogue.

  18. Gabrielle Brabander

    As council prepare to vote on the civic centre project, l urge them (and our community), to please consider the following;
    • Is this the best location for this building? Does this design connect and integrate into its surroundings and landscape within which it sits? Does the colourful architect rhetoric about mountains and oceans translate to anything in this location? There is no ‘lead’ into the building, and it is squashed into this space next to the car park. 
    • Will this building be able to evolve and change into the future? 
    • Is a mismatch of art space/library and civic offices in the CBD likely to attract Tourists? Would a building (without council offices), but including an entertainment centre, space for outdoor sculptures and performances entice more people (both locals and visitors) and offer more vibrancy? 
    • Are new council offices essential? Justification for this appears to be based on the claimed need for enhanced customer service. What research was undertaken? Where was the public consultation regarding the need for new council offices?
    • Has an overspend contingency been factored into the cost? Have costs of works to Gordon Street and Riding Lane been factored into this estimate? 
What is the backup plan if the properties to be sold to offset the costs either don’t sell or realise less than paper value?
    • Have the State/Federal governments been approached to date regarding funds? Have they committed any support, or provided feedback?
    • What are the estimated running and maintenance costs for this building? How do they compare to the current council buildings?
    • What does Rigby House currently earn CHCC in rent? Where will ‘replacement’ income be generated from if this building is sold?
    • What does this mean for City Hill, and any future for arts/culture in that location?
    • Are you, as councillors, confident that all options for better art and library facilities have been explored, that this is the very best outcome, and is a justifiable expense at $75+ million?
    • Are you, as councillors prepared to overburden ratepayers and residents by allowing the (justifiable) need for better art and library facilities to be hijacked by this monster project devoid of real focus, and in the wrong location? As a community do we feel we have sufficient answers to these questions to allow this project to continue in its current proposed form? 
    l firmly believe that this is a wasted opportunity for our arts and cultural future, and urge councillors to please reconsider.

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