For many people the proposed Civic and Cultural Space has become a very emotive topic.
By Ann Leonard
For some we are at a point of seeing a long held dream of a standalone Multipurpose Cultural Precinct being overshadowed by a grand new council administration building.
For others, those employed by council and their supporters, it is the culmination of several year’s work.
We are all on the same page. We all want progressive library, gallery and state of the art performing arts facilities which will see us through the coming decades. If we make the right decisions this is what we will have.
However, it is not emotion that should decide the fate of this project but rather the many practical considerations which seem to have been glossed over or not addressed at all. Regardless of what the outcome is, this journey has brought with it a great deal of knowledge and this knowledge can only enable us to produce the best possible circumstance for all involved.
In the last week, the broader community has been confronted by the knowledge the proposed civic and cultural space will include an extensive new Council administrative component which will occupy the top three floors and possibly, given the “flexibility” of the current plan, more. Particularly as the proposal delivers less space to council than it currently occupies.
A great deal of money has already been spent. This is of concern to many they are not getting what they thought we had signed up for.
According to one local poll 70% of the community favours the creation of appropriate cultural facilities. Of that 70% less than one third are happy with the current proposal equating to 80% of those who participated in the poll.
At last week’s public meeting, only two raised their hands in support of the proposal in an audience in excess of 400 people. Unless council is prepared to run roughshod over the population on this issue and, in consideration of a council election coming up next year, pause for thought is probably a good option for everyone.
On a practical note, my mind keeps coming back to the following:
Where is the business case supporting the release of four council owned properties onto the market?
What are we going to do with all the extra commercial floorspace that will be foisted onto the CBD with it’s plethora of vacant retail and commercial office space?
What future is envisaged for the many privately owned and underdeveloped properties and vacant land holdings? Should we not grow into these existing assets first?
Council itself has options for growth in its existing buildings and could have more, once we move forward with new cultural facilities which the majority of the population wants.
Given that the proposed civic and cultural project requires the sale of these four properties to move forward does council have in place negotiations which will enable them to do so? If not is it expedient for council to spend any more of the ratepayer’s money on the project until there is any surety that it will sell these properties?
The main argument for the current proposal it seems, is the revitalisation of the CBD. It is obvious to many, given the continued approval of developments beyond the CBD there has been a bleed of commercial and government institutions to other areas over the last 40 years.
Revitalisation projects of which there have been many have not worked. Should we accept this fait accompli and work with what we have?
With the changes in society over those decades the role of these precincts is changing and council is right to encourage the residential development to address this.
Given all operations of the proposed civic and cultural space are undertaken during business hours how will this project bring a night life to the CBD?
A natural growth in this area has taken place in both the Jetty Precinct and Sawtell with no outside interventions. Is there something to be learned from this?
Has all the homework really been done on this?
Are we to be held to ransom over the development of a performing arts space by the Cex if we do not progress with the inclusion of $40 million for new council chambers in the proposal?
We have too many loose ends and council owes it to the community whose assets are at stake here to ensure we have covered all our bases.
The above is a slightly edited version of the speech given in support of the recission motion to Council by Ann on 25 July last. Coffs Coast Outlook offers to publish all speeches for and against the recission motion and has alread published one in support of the motion by Jan Lindrum. See: https://coffscoastoutlook.com.au/gordon-street-a-rate-payer-funded-port-macquarie-glasshouse/