Local, Opinion/Comment

“In 2010 the Mayor said Lower City Hill ideal for an entertainment centre”

Now is the time to have your say before it is too late and we incur a massive financial liability and a facility which cannot grow with our city and population.

By Fran Stephenson

Currently before our Council is the approval of an updated regional art gallery, museum, library with the top floor being for Council Chambers and Admin Staff. Please note that the new proposed Council area is actually a smaller space than currently in use – so why do it?

Fran Stepehenson – from her Facebook page


I urge you as a community member and, most probably a ratepayer, to have a say in this project as it is the most important, expensive project our city will ever undertake involving a very large expenditure of $76.5m – a figure which will undoubtedly blow out.
We need to get it right or we pay the price in the future.

Where would we like this development to be?

The site currently favoured by Council is the Gordon Street site of the old Salvation Army building using the existing Vernon Street car park. As a former Vernon Street retailer of 20 years I listened to the continual complaints from my customers about difficulty in parking … it is worse now, and the proposed development will further exacerbate this.

In an Advocate story reporting a Council meeting in October 2010 when the Performing Arts Centre was on the table it was reported:
“Cr Denise Knight, who moved the motion to select City Hill and include the gallery, said the present art gallery was far too small and moving the gallery in with the entertainment centre would allow the library to spread out into the present art gallery space, saving money.”
When Cr. Degens suggested Gordon Street, Cr. Denise Knight, then Deputy Mayor, went on to say –
“Cr Knight said Cr Degens had a good point, but an entertainment centre with at least 650 seats needed plenty of parking.
Gordon Street is a lovely street, but not for an entertainment centre,” she said.
“Lower City Hill is an ideal site.” (This story was written by Belinda Scott and can still be found in the archives of the Advocate website.)

Why has Cr. Knight now changed her mind? We deserve an explanation I feel.

We can’t afford a Tourist Information Centre or curbing and guttering in many streets yet we will spend $76.5m+ on a non-income producing facility which will not give us anything new.


We look with envy at Port Macquarie’s Glasshouse which is linked to a Gowing’s Shopping Centre. Although this is a wonderful venue it does not provide parking other than inside the Gowings shopping centre and many surrounding small retailers closed down immediately after it was built. Tour/school buses cannot park near the Glasshouse or are they able to drop passengers at the door.


Are we now doing a ‘Port Macquarie’ and creating a cultural centre linked to a Gowings shopping centre?


I would like the community and Council to consider Lower City Hill as, IMHO it is the best possible site and is a site given to the people of Coffs Harbour by the Government ‘for cultural purposes’.
Those not familiar with Lower City Hill it is the greenfield site at the northern end of Hogbin Drive opposite the race course.


This 11 hectare site offers all that is needed to establish a very impressive cultural precinct which could give our city the opportunity to stand out above other regional centres and encourage increased tourism and add to our own enjoyment. It provides great access to all parts of our city and room to grow thus enabling facilities like:
Performing arts centre, art gallery, museum, tourist information centre or booth, garden cafe, restaurant, function/events/conference centre, outdoor amphi-theatre, parkland gardens, outdoor sculpture gallery, gift shop, cartoon walkway to link the National Cartoon Gallery etc. etc. Which could be carried out in a staged development.

City Hill has space for heaps of parking including that for delivery trucks and buses which the Gordon Street site does not offer. Where would a tour bus park in the CBD?

Lower City Hill has easy access from all parts of the city and people leaving the centre can disperse along three major roads basically in four directions. It is walkable from the CBD and has an existing bus service at the door. It has the highest possible visibility with thousands of cars passing the doors daily including visitors to our town via the airport.

City Hill is only 2 mins away from the CBD, Jetty Strip, Promenade, Jetty Theatre, schools, exisiting museum, airport, golf course etc. It has its own history and a story to tell plus with the right design could have stunning panoramic 360 degree views. It is in a bushland setting not in the heart of our already congested city centre.

Lower City Hill ticks all the boxes plus more.

Please do not sit back and be the silent majority and complain after it happens. Have your say now it is your city and this is an extremely important issue. Please talk to others and above all convey your feelings to Council before it’s too late and the decision is made for us.

If you do not agree with the points I have put forward please forgive me for contacting you on this important matter.


First published at Fran Stephenson’s Facebook page, Friday 19 July. See: https://www.facebook.com/fran.stephenson.7?fref=nf&__tn__=%2Cdm-R-R&eid=ARClPDn09NUDm6Imv0ZSfDWOZPUbhkvuW8UNocuaHUMOotxpPh6sHLNskoJtZxYTpk5imaGPXX072kJH

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The Mayor has published an OpEd in today’s Coffs Coast Advocate on page 20 of the hard copy of the paper. It is reproduced below.

From the Mayor’s Desk

By Cr Denise Knight

As we followed through on the City Centre Masterplan, Council found a potential site for the new library and gallery in 2016. The extensive Precinct Analysis undertaken at the time, including independent input, confirmed the City Centre as being the ‘Heart of the City’.

At that time, the community-based Library Gallery Planning Advisory Committee proposed that the new building also include Council accommodation. They proposed this because the current offices are at the end of their useful life and including Council facilities would add to the vibrancy of the new facility.

The location of the new Cultural and Civic Space.
The location of the new Cultural and Civic Space. Contributed to The Advocate

We didn’t just accept that and move forward. We then looked at a number of options for providing Council office accommodation at various existing locations. These were carefully evaluated and included in the preparation of the Cultural and Civic Space Concept Business Case. And including them at the Gordon Street site was the more efficient and effective solution. Other options for upgrading the current office facilities were evaluated – but they were found to cost more than what’s being proposed.

It also needs to be made clear that expanding the library into the existing art gallery space still only leaves us with a library that would be half the size that it should be for our population – according to the State Government’s own guidelines.

The City Centre Masterplan Committee endorsed the addition of Council offices and the revised project was adopted at the May 2017 Council Meeting. We have been moving forward since then.

At every critical step, the community has been consulted. Just as you were during the initial development of the City Centre Masterplan.

Now we find ourselves in 2019, when in May Council unveiled the schematic design for the proposed Cultural and Civic Space.

The design – which illustrates the co-location of library, gallery, museum, co-working and community meeting/gathering places and Council administration – was well received by the community members who left feedback.

It wasn’t just the design that was available for the public to see, funding for the project was made clear too.

Coffs Harbour Mayor Denise Knight.
Coffs Harbour Mayor Denise Knight. Sam Flanagan – The Advocate

Council developed a business case for the Cultural and Civic Space. Which indicated a total project cost estimated at $76.52m. This is a figure that is based on forecast 2022 costings because we took into account the continually rising cost of construction which again minimises any possible future cost blowouts.

This cost will be offset by $20m in asset sales – the sales of Rigby House, the current Council Chamber building, the Museum and buildings in Rose Avenue. The $20m estimate was provided by independent valuation. In addition to sales revenue, a further $10.5m from internal cost-saving reserves will be used.

Which brings the net cost of any possible borrowings required to $46.02m over 30 years. Currently, interest rates are at all-time lows and we can access rates fixed for 20 years at 2.6%.

Council is actively pursuing Federal and State grants to reduce the $46m borrowings.
It’s correct that Council does not have grants at the moment, but we will continue to apply as we do for the majority of our projects.

No, there won’t be a rate rise to pay for it. No, we’re not selling or leasing the airport to pay for it.

This Cultural and Civic Centre project is our opportunity to make a significant mark as a forward-looking city worthy of business and tourism investment – and that means more local jobs.

It’s time to start thinking about the future and what’s best for our young people and the whole community.”

Reproduced from page 20 the Coffs Coast Advocate Saturday 20 July 2019. Behind a paywall online at https://www.coffscoastadvocate.com.au/news/secrets-laid-bare-on-coffs-civic-centre/3783172/

22 Comments

  1. Rob Trezise

    When the CHCC, in 2018 voted to go to the next stage of their City Council Chambers building project, there was also an allocation of funds to explore the potential of City Hill for arts development.
    To date, as far as I know, there has been no report publicly displayed or information as to where those funds were used.
    This along with a myriad of questions the community should be asking the General Manager to explain. For it is he that is at the wheel of the good ship
    Coffs Harbour, although recently it feels line we are all on board the Titanic heading for icebergs ! BTW well said Fran – we need to take heed .

    • Hi Rob …I am asking you a favour please. As a photographer you no the power a pic can be. On Triple M Coffs Coast Facebook Page ….AL Beaujest a born & Bred Coffs Harbour Man has kindly posted a Topography Picture of City Hill and surrounds to show the Public . It needs too be circulated across all Facebook Sites so the Public can VISUALIZE that this is the place for it too be built ….this is as why the State Gov Housing Commission gave it back too Coffs for a Cultural Hub Precinct.
      We do not want a Gambling RSL Entertainment Centre. That is NOT CULTURAL.!!!!
      Kind Regards Max

      • The Date 18th July at 621pm the Post showing 2 pics of the audience at Andrews Public Meeting . Thanks Rob🙂

  2. Pkease read the following article. I am not sure why the Mayor has changed her tune.
    https://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2010-10-20/coffs-harbours-city-hill-now-the-preferred-site/2304064

  3. Max Brinsmead

    Agree 100% with Fran Stephenson. And I am not convinced by the Mayor’s arguments. Why not table all of the options and their costings and put it to the ratepayers with a proper plebiscite? I consider myself reasonably well informed on local matters but this massive plan seems to have sprung from nowhere. Am I the only one who is feeling steam rolled here?

  4. The lower section of City Hill is ideal for at-grade parking which is far less expensive than basement parking. The lower section is also accessible from a northerly and southerly direction. The potential to landscape and turn into an iconic Gateway to the City presents. Further, as I have said previously, there is an ABSOLUTE DUTY on the part of the Councillors to develop City Hill. The land was gifted (11 hectares of prime land on a golf course touted to be one of the best regional golf courses in the state of NSW) for a peppercorn $200,000-00 on 1 July 1988 on the basis that the Council would develop the land for PERFORMING ARTS, MUSEUM, GALLERY & COMPATIBLE TOURISM PROJECTS. Some things don’t change. “ACTING IN THE BEST INTERESTS OF THE PEOPLE” attaches to the Oath of Office. The interests of the people will be best served by an ICONIC GATEWAY DEVELOPMENT on CITY HILL. The only “qualification”, Council MUST make disclosure on the “Business Enterprise Park”. If the “Business Enterprise Park” is to be an “Industrial Park”, not sure how B-double and B-triple movements down Hogbin Drive would impact an ICONIC CENTRE OF EXCELLENCE??? It’s all about MASTER PLANNING a CITY and DISCLOSURE of all information to rate payers and residents whose interests can only be served if they are in a position to make sound judgments. In the absence of information, a judgment call could be inherently wrong and you only get one bite at the cherry to put a city like COFFS HARBOUR on the map. Competitors on the doorstep are already streets ahead and the perception that Coffs is a “drive through City” on the way to the Gold Coast lingers. Janne C Lindrum

  5. Gai Anderson

    Glaring omission jumps out in timeline – IF Mayor has included all steps – that being not taking it back community after coatings were done.

    • Gai Anderson

      Yep Max Smart. You are on the same putrid trail that I am …..only much much further along, probably with having devoted much more thought and imagination …and imagination of very feasible possible factors, probably most already being what they all – developers and certain elements of our Council and council senior management – think they have ‘in the bag’ …….

      If there hadn’t been the option of a rescission motion, or none of the four “against” knew and therefore, or for other reasons such as giving up, didn’t put such forward the next step would have to have been the Local Government Minister (I assume there is such, name may be wrong) and/or the NSW Ombudsman. Let’s hope at least Sally Townley has her eyes opened.

      Do u mind if I screen shot your message…. If directing her to Grant’s post isn’t possible – say if she’s not a member of the group…..

      Now ….another plan of attack should be to ask why Crs Cecato and Addendorf haven’t declared an interest? A massive conflict of interest!!!

      It would be VERY interesting to know who was on Council and voted when the City CBD Master Plan – or whatever that is called – was put before CHCC and got approval. And whether conflicts of interest saw councillor/s leave the chamber then.

      I really feel that the wool must have been being pulled over Sally Townley’s eyes. I only hope I am right because people like you and I are having to invest so much of themselves, time and effort as it is. And this probably would only get worse if bigger sticks like the Minister and Ombudsman have to be used.

      And that said …..the State Govt standing to benefit, and/or having got to the stage of indicative approval for C.ex and other developers who may be in the picture, may well influence the Minister, whether he wants it to or not. IE a “hands tied” situation

      The same fights are going to be on our hands when state government departments take future steps in what they, THEY, have called a Precinct (forget actual name) that includes all the waters out to a line from end South Wall to Muttonbird. Which may be presently in the SIs Marine Park, but would soon be taken out of that.

      We have a rail line right at the harbour, plans for coal mining the Clarence exist ….. It may be just a conspiracy theory but there is info on the web about possibility of investors (mainly Chinese, with one Aussie resident) developing the current Commonwealth customs port of entry to a shipping port. Google these words: Port of Yamba redevelopment

      Anyway ….. Back to current battle…..as well as informing, persuading and requesting Cr Townley to swing the balance, we need to complain to council (via the GMgr? Not sure) about pecuniary interests and conflicts of interest…… I don’t even remember it being raised. What i expect is for a question to be put by the Chair, in our case usually the Mayor, to those councillors attending each and EVERY meeting asking for anyone WITH such conflict to declare it and leave the chamber.

      • Helen Weir

        Hi Gai
        I was at the Council meeting and there were two declarations of interest but both listed as non-pecuniary from memory. One was from Councillor Adendorff but cant remember the other one. You can probably verify by reading the Council Agenda/Minutes for the last meeting.

  6. Let’s cut too the real Benefices of this proposed site. ITS THE C.ex CLUB Number 1. The Largest land owner after receiving The Civic Centre & Library PRIME REAL ESTATE for their car park back in the late 80’s. ( It would not surprise me if they have their eyes on the site of the Council Chambers if it comes for sale in this proposed Gordon St debacle). They have already invested in purchasing retail buildings in Version St waiting on the CBD Masterplan Activation.

    I see this as ” INSIDER TRADING ” ….Then Surprise…surprise…John Rafferty CEO …announces they will build the Entertainment Centre…but blackmails & says ..Will ONLY SUPPORT IT if Council Admin is included in the Proposed $76 – $100,000,00 Building. You see this getting Built at RATEPAYERS MONEY will BRING HUGE $$$$$$$$$$ for the C.ex Club …who make the money in Poker Machine revune . This then gives revenue to State Gov.

    What they haves always had intension is a ” Mini Casino ” with Entertainment , 5 Star Accommodation etc etc. Basically a MONOPOLY!!! Think of A smaller version of Jupiter’s Casino.

    When asked at the Council Meeting July 11th from Cr Sally Townley …the great CONFIDENTIALITY CLAUSE was used by John Rafferty….as it’s with the State Gov

    2. The Chamber of Commerce. Cr Cercato ex President Of the Chamber of Commerce voted for it.
    3. Cr Michael Aidenorff owns buildings in the CBD where values will rise sky high with rezoning and height restriction increase as part of the CBD Masterplan. Who is also on the Committee of the chamber of Commerce. Also voted for the motion to proceed. His quote at the meeting ” ITS LIKE BUYING ALL THE FISH & HAVING THEM IN THE ONE TANK!!!! Referring to Council Staff being in the One Building.
    Cr Micheal Aidenorf having listened too you at every Council Meeting on Audio….you are THE ENTERTAINMENT that’s for sure. What a joke!!!

    3. The Landholders. A Commercial Real Estate Agent has made a lot of Money selling the buildings where all the EMPTY SHOPS are. It’s called Land Banking and the POWERBALL WIN will be for the landowners as it always has been through out history …as LAND CAN NEVER BE REPLACED!!!!

    Landowners are in the Hands of Councils who make the Descisions for DA to be proved and zonings to change.

    In Summarising……Knight Mayor….my Felecia again…Mayor Denise Knight with her Casting Vote….just SOLD THE FAMILY….just like the Council Did Back in the late 80, and the C.ex has now taken Over The CBD PRIME BLUE CHIP REAL ESTATE!!!!
    Mayor Knight on Triple M you called Andrew Fraser …I quote…a Dinasour!!!! Regarding City Hill.

    Well Mayor Knight. 400-500. Of us mostly Mature DINASOURS came out to show you….,,,” WE ARE NOT EXTINCT….nor are WE CRIPPLES!!!!

    • Gai Anderson

      Nb folks, very confusingly ….replying messages go above that which they are replying to.

      Max Smart …also forgot to say that I wonder if the value of the DA that C.ex will put forward will mean CHCC can only take it so far. .? Then recommend to the Joint Regional Planning Committee (or some such name) that it be approved? This was the case with Justice Precinct and only reason there is any off street parking is a comment (ex? ..retired?) developed Peter Lubans made in a newspaper (front page I think, from memory) article stating that. I wentbto look at the DA in CHCC’s foyer on the last weekday of exhibition. I spent huge amounts of time pulling a submission together. The JRPC invited me to speak when they sat in council chambers and approved the DA with an amendment for the carpark just up Beryl St from Police Station.

  7. Gai Anderson

    Beg pardon…she reckons finance WAS advised. You can’t get final costings until the architect design is available. That only went up in May according to our Mayor.

    So finance information was indicative only, done by a quantity surveyor. Not only that …there’s a distinct possibility that even an independent valuers report may not see realisation of sales price of property assets – that we all own, not “the council” (council staff & mgmt, or Council – being current, at the time, councillors, deputy mayor & mayor).

    Fixed rates only 20 yrs of the 30 yrs to repay ….. ANYthing could happen after that.

  8. Gai Anderson

    Continuing: no display of schematic since they got it. IE community consultation not provided. And now we have to fight to get back to that point, and others to do with funding …whatever ends up going ahead.

    No mention that twice already funding grants have been applied for and not available to us. … BECAUSE ….govt WON’T FUND for council administration accommodation.

    • Gai Anderson

      Thanks Helen….I had had a quick look but missed it. So ….owning property isn’t “significant”. That needs to be challenged… on Monday, and nxt Thurs

  9. Gai Anderson

    And lastly
    ….have found my life hijacked by this whole situation, as it has in the past when I had to take Council and the council (largely our Gen Mgr Steve McGrath) on, and need to have some time outside and off social media…..

    lastly: no mention of the bridging finance that would be needed in order to build the Gordon St proposal so as to not sell – PRIOR to it’s COMPLETION – the council assets that supposedly will provide $20 million! IE leaving all current occupants with nowhere to be!
    Or….
    get, somehow,
    BRIDGING finance (for at least about $50mill, secured by? Do we have a total of $50 mill in all assets besides those proposed to be sold?).
    Or find some very cashed up purchasers willing to pay for, but not take possession of, the site/s – premises – for the length of time preparation & construction would take!?!

    Gowings, or a 4 or 5 star hotel, may perhaps be interested in 1 or more sites, AND in a financial position to do so. At what interest cost. ? A cost not mentioned.

    Although the appeal of such as an international standard hotel where CHCC currently is, and Rigby House, WAS mentioned at Council meeting, when trying to justify nebulous, at best, liquidation amounts bandied around.

    I suspect that besides behind closed doors discussions, and even negotiations, with C.ex there may well have been others. With big end of town entities.

    I do realise that many things have to START on such a basis, but before we get to the various points along the time line travelled, they should have at least made it to a point of other councillors knowing about such…..

    And if that was the case one or more of them would have disclosed such by now … one of the four opposed to the Gordon St build (as is per schematic, not engineering, plans).

    I can even envisage a situation where the 3 others – than Mayor Denise Knight – who voted to approve have an incomplete knowledge. I can only hope they are reading social media, and will be game enough to show up at Coffs Central (upstairs, 10:30 – 1 pm). As this is unknown it is critical that community members write to all councillors, phone, and post on any social media platforms that they may use. Sally Townley, Cr Cecato and Cr Addendorf. ASAP. Preferably over the weekend, so they havevtime to attend to reading such…..

  10. Rob Trezise

    Max Smart , help me out here. I cannot find the City Hill plan you asked me about on the Triple M Facebook – perhaps some direction could help me do something for you

    • Rob it a picture from the sky . It’s been put on Andrew Frasers personal Facebook page now. Click on the comments on Andrew s page . Andrew posted Fran’s past. 🙂

  11. MAX, I cannot find it. Please send a screen shot to Coffs Coast Outlook for it to be forwarded to me . Thank you

  12. So I’ve read the Mayor’s article and I find it hard to believe. Well not really. I now understand why the new Council building will cost an obscene amount, deliver nothing more than we currently have in terms of actual facilities such as the museum, art gallery and library and never make a dollar in return.

    In lieu of obtaining solid professional advice, Council chose to selectively rely on the community-based Library Gallery Planning Advisory Committee to “propose the new building also include council accommodation” and why, well because the Committee felt council’s buildings were “at the end of their useful life”. So, those buildings that council will supposedly sell for $20million are the same that are “past their use by date? Surely even the Mayor can see the ludicrous holes in this statement.

    Of course the Mayor also roles out the City Centre Masterplan to support the project. That would be the plan supposedly paid for by the “extra special preferential rates” from CBD property owners. But, when former Deputy Mayor, Rod McKelvy asked “where was the money for the masterplan”, somehow Council had seemingly lost it in a black hole.

    So to summarise:
    1. We have a proposed new Council building that was essentially designed around the Library Gallery Planning Advisory Committee as part of the City Centre Masterplan that Council cannot find the lost “Special Rates” to pay for.
    2. Council has no firm project pricing, however between 2014 and 2019, the cost estimate has spiralled uncontrollably to exceed over 200% of the original rubber estimate.
    3. There is no parking included, not even for the 70% of the Council staff, who I assume will get to keep their jobs.
    4. The existing Council buildings that are expected to sell for $20mil are, accordingly to the Library Gallery Planning Advisory Committee, past their “use by date” and hence essentially worth less than the dirt they sit on after demolition costs!
    5. The gallery, library and museum will never earn a dollar and we know Council only spends money.
    6. There will be no fictitious 400,000 paying patrons enjoying the non-existant performing arts facility.
    7. Because of points 1 through 6, the General Manager will sadly and inexplicably have to announce the Council is again broke and needs to raise rates…again and again….
    5. To combat all this fuzzy, unhelpful information that the public won’t like, Council (and by this stage, I’m thinking the General Manager) came up with a swift slight of hand, coupled with a little smoke and a few mirrors and a generous splash of BS, to announce a new “Civic and Cultural Centre” to appease the artsy types and mesmerise the rest of the proletariat.

    Let me think about all this for a milli second…..that would be NO!

  13. Renate Duncan

    I’m not sure if this is the forum but I would like to register my opposition to the proposed new council chambers, library and gallery. As a rate payer I believe that the budget will blow out well beyond its estimation and no doubt rate payers will be asked for a further increase when we have already had a massive increase over the past few years. I believe there is little benefit that this project would provide for the greater community, parking would be a nightmare and there would be many better solutions.

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