In the lead story of the Coffs Coast Advocate of Wednesday 3 July Councillor Paul Amos is quoted as saying the proposed Cultural and Civic Centre in Gordon Street is “sucking all the oxygen away” from other issues Council should be considering to such an extent that Council is now “fighting over the scraps.
He then goes on to warn that the proposed centre, the tender process for which is to be considered by Council in a week’s time on 11 July, could blow out to cost as much as $100 million.
He speaks a lot of sense as we shall argue below.
Cr Amos (below) highlighted that the estimated cost of $76m is up from an original estimate of $35m admittedly because it includes new council offices, the Civic Centre component of the name.
On Thursday 11 July Councillors will be considering easily one of the biggest financial proposals in its history.
Yet as far as ratepayers are concerned much of the process behind deciding on the Cultural and Civic Centre in 23-31 Gordon Street has been shrouded in mystery.
An independent report provided to the Friends of City Hill in 2017 by a well respected local property professional and valuer and sighted by the Coffs Coast Outlook outlines that three proposals were put in front of Councillors in 2017.
Option 1 was a Library, Gallery, Front Counter/Customer Service and Council Chambers (multi-purpose space) with a capital cost estimated at $18m.
Option 2 was a Library, Gallery, Front Counter/Customer service as above but with built to order office accommodation of approximately 3,200m2. Estimated capital cost $35m. This option also included upgrading Council’s exiting Administration building for $2.7m in addition to the $35m.
Option 3 was Option 2 above minus the upgrade of existing facilities. Estimated cost $35m.
The mysterious bit is that the author of the report states it is impossible to comment on the Council estimates for the options as figures for the sale of Rigby House, designed to help fund the new building, and other figures pertaining to estimated rental returns on council property because information about them was not made available to the public. The author of the report states this is the case because Attachment 4 of the Council minutes, wherein all these matters were considered, was ‘confidential’. Presumably this means Councillors discussed them ‘in camera’.
Council voted for Option 3 in 2017.
By early 2018 however a different beast had appeared this time estimated to cost the current $76m. An increase of $41m. Again Council voted to accept the new proposal.
Councillor Amos voted against this proposal though.
And with good reason we believe.
The following recent post here on Outlook on 3 July by Gabrielle Brabander summarises the concerns of many about the new 23-32 Gordon Street and pretty much is word for word what we were going to write:
“As council prepare to vote on the civic centre project, I 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?
I firmly believe that this is a wasted opportunity for our arts and cultural future, and urge councillors to please reconsider.”
We would add also the following two extra questions;
- ‘Have Councillors thought about funding implications and alternatives if the sale of Rigby House (below) and the privatisation of the airport and the adjacent industrial park fail to attain what has been budgeted for or fail to materialise at all?
- ‘If State and Federal Governments are not helping with the new proposed project might it be, at least in part, because of Council’s refusal to develop City Hill as a full cultural and entertainment centre as was negotiated with the Federal Government?’
The report for the Friends of City Hill comments that “it is concerning to me that Council have decided to adopt the recommendations of the report with very little attention given to the option to the alternative option(s) to relocate the Cultural Centre to a more suitable ‘greenfield site’ such as City Hill.
The current Mayor campaigned at both elections in which she ran for Mayor stating as a priority that she would ensure Coffs Harbour and surrounding areas got a respectable Entertainment Centre.
As Cr Amos points out no such thing is proposed for 23-32 Gordon Street. An Entertainment Centre is not part of the proposal.
In fact it could be argued that the proposed new building is predominantly a new Civic Centre and Council administration building.
Do we need a new Art Centre? Most definitely yes!
Do we need a new Library? Again yes.
Do we need a new space for a Museum? Yes again!
Do we need a new Entertainment Centre? Most definitely yes. But where is it? It seems to have completely ‘dropped off the radar’.
Councillors need to think long and hard about all the points above both before and on 11 July.
The last word should be left to Gabrielle Brabander’s statement above:
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?
Gabriel Brabander’s comment quoted above can be found under this story on Outlook: https://coffscoastoutlook.com.au/city-hill-coffs-harbour-part-4-and-gordon-street
Details about the Coffs Coast Outlook and its editorial team can be found here: https://coffscoastoutlook.com.au/about-us-faq/