The proposed Cultural and Civic centre: Councillor Amos speaks sense.

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.

Cr Amos

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:

The estimated $75m+ building for 23-32 Gordon Street.

“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?’
Will Rigby House be sold for what Council anticipates?

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:

Details about the Coffs Coast Outlook and its editorial team can be found here:

41 thoughts on “The proposed Cultural and Civic centre: Councillor Amos speaks sense.

  1. We can only hope that Cr.Amos is not a voice in the wilderness and there are other Coffs Harbour City Councillors will join him stop this wanton,reckless spending on a building that cannot be justified either in its function or cost.

    If this goes ahead our city and future generations will much poorer for it; culturally,financially and socially.

    (From Outlook’s Facebook site)

  2. And the council also want to fund this (partly) by selling off one of the few heritage sites we have left, the museum/old police station.

    (From The Toormina/Coffs Neighbourhood watch Facebook site)

  3. This proposed centre is ugly ugly ugly.

    (From The Toormina/Coffs Neighbourhood watch Facebook site)

  4. I think this is a better option then anything on city hill. City hill needs to stay vegetated and improved as one of our last bits of habitat in Coffs.

    (From The Toormina/Coffs Neighbourhood watch Facebook site)

      1. Geez KL – you had to go back a long way (July 2019) to find a comment that aligns with your own myopic view of the world.

        And Adam Strickland must be equally myopic if he thinks City Hill is “one of our last bits of habitat in Coffs”.

        And incidentally, no one is suggesting the entire landscape of City Hill be covered in concrete.

  5. They can’t fix the roads because of lack of funding how are they going to pay for this?
    The link road is a mess and by painting new white lines on it does not improve it.
    The North end of the highway is a disgrace finish sealing it like the other end of town.

    (From The Toormina/Coffs Neighbourhood watch Facebook site)

  6. Its not needed… stop wasting tax payers money and fix things that need fixing instead of wasting money on flashy crap!

    (From The Toormina/Coffs Neighbourhood watch Facebook site)

  7. Nice artist impression especially when they car park directly behind the building is not shown.

    The alleged design of “connect and integrate into its surroundings and landscape” fails to represent the mountains and the ocean.

    It will be just another blight on our city scape. For what could have had great potential and reflect on Coffs Harbour History the building fails.

    Take it all back to City Hill with one of our major historical icons the centre piece, the old light from the Light house, shining brightly once again. This artsy fartsy design is crap.

    I think our Mayor just wants her own Glass House.

    (From The Toormina/Coffs Neighbourhood watch Facebook site)

  8. Theres talk about the cost blowing out to 100 million do we need a 100 million dollar library – Museum in Coffs Harbour Id rather see 100 million dollars worth of upgrades and senior citizens services around town .

    Its more like a shrine for the mayor and her cronies and what an ugly design it is really

  9. Does this council really want to be remembered for such blatant self importance and out of control spending?

    Where are the other Councillors we elected speaking up about this topic? Do we need an inquiry to investigate this council?

    More than anything an entertainment centre makes sense.

    Why aren’t the public allowed to have input as to whether WE want this eyesore.

    (From The Toormina/Coffs Neighbourhood watch Facebook site)

  10. This is an important article that asks many vital questions. There has been far too little public consultation over this project. My reaction has also been ugly, expensive and misdirected. I need to be convinced otherwise.

  11. Having once been a part of Friends of City Hill, I had the privilege of spending time engaging with and listening to Ron Sims who sadly had to return to Perth. He made a great contribution and eloquently described the multi benefits of a Cultural Centre situated at the City Hill site and just what those benefits would bring to Coffs Harbour. I need not repeat here what Ron wrote but I do highly recommend all those interested in the arts; whether static or performing, take time to read his article recently posted on coffscoastoutlook.

    I also pay homage to Margaret Becket having spent time with Margaret getting to know the history of City Hill. I know too about Margaret’s efforts with Mayor Knight trying desperately to make sense of why the Mayor is proposing this creation in Gordon Street and not City Hill.

    Turning to the concerns of Cr. Paul Amos: It seems Councillor Amos, in this late hour, has become the GATEKEEPER for the people of Coffs Harbour. His understanding and doubts concerning this project suggests he alone on Council is battling to question the viability and consequences of spending vast sums of unquantifiable ratepayers’ money.

    It’s true that Mayor Knight came to office promising an entertainment centre and it’s now a mystery as to why that pledge disappeared.

    What concerns me and many others is; after spending say somewhere between $76,000,000 and $100,000,000, what juice will be left in the tank..? What if, as the population of Coffs Harbour grows and people demand a venue for attending large stage music or dance productions; where would the money come from …..“Sorry, it’s all gone. The cupboard is bare”.

    There is a potential tragedy unfolding before our eyes. And like most tragedies, they end in tears much like the consequences of Port Macquarie’s Glasshouse tragedy. Do we need to see this replicated here in our beloved Coffs Harbour.

    So we must ask; why on earth should we allow an unaffordable technically sophisticated building be plonked in such an unfitting place next to an ugly carpark in a narrow road. Then ask how much it would cost the ratepayers to maintain and look after it. There would be expensive lighting, lifts to service, and a very large AC system to cope with the abundant use of glass, plus both security and fire systems. Then, there’s the cleaning.

    Are we the public entitled to know..? If so, let’s see all the figures before any further voting takes place.

    There will be no financial and economic benefit. Libraries, art galleries and museums do not bring in revenue. They are a burden upon the public’s purse.

    This appears as nothing more than an edifice designed to leave behind a glorification and legacy to a handful supposedly representing the c.75,000 residents. And in a few years’ time, they’ll be gone and potentially taking with them unfondly remembered names and reputations.

    We CAN do better than this..!

    PS: If there are any Friends of City Hill tuning in, this is your opportunity.

    Than you for this opportunity Coffscoastoutlook.

  12. Coffs Harbour would be richer for an appropriate civic/entertainment/cultural centre of justified size and cost. It is entirely inappropriate to use the concept as a disguise for new council office space!
    Under the current General Manager Council has not demonstrated financial acumen with persistent rate increases and an abuse of the CBD Special Rates, the whereabouts of which Council refused to disclose. I wonder whether the General Manager would gamble his employment on fixing the price of the project with no movement? It is an interesting question, given he is gambling with our rates.
    As Cr Amos recently pointed out, Council cannot balance its books without government grants and I can attest the same applied at the time Nan Cowling was a Councillor and likely well before that.
    It is time our collective Councillors act, as they should, on behalf of residents. There are better options and for such a significant project/cost, Council should be comprehensively consulting with residents on an individual basis, not superficially.

  13. Why the fu#% do we need a new Council chambers?

    Multi million dollar offices for council staff, but no real Civic center. No parking either.

  14. The link road has been inadequate for decades for the volume of traffic it Carries. Surely decent walkways with solar lighting along the edge would make it a safe passage for Uni students ?

    Nearly every street in Coffs needs adequate street lights before a multimillion dollar council chambers ?😡

  15. The Friends Of The Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery (FOG), of which I am a member, have been running strong support for the Coffs Harbour Cultural & Civic Space for some time; mounting a propaganda campaign, blowing plaudits into the ears of some Councillors, strongly advocating the building as we see planned today.

    However, there has been some dissent within the FOG, including myself who are very concerned that the costs and potential blow out, as forewarned by Cr. Amos and others, will leave the city with a huge debt, while we will still have an inadequate cultural centre, poorly located in the CBD.

    It should be, and has been shown to be, that the prime site is at City Hill.

    When Council voted to begin the Gordon St adventure, despite resolutions on the Council’s books to sell the site, they also allocated a considerable sum of money to investigate building on City Hill. To my knowledge, there has been very little, if any feasibility study done as per the Council’s minute, and no accounting for the funds as voted for to be set aside and allocated for this study. Should we be asking where is the money, what are the reports from this study ? Has it been commenced ?

    We have a Council on the road to destruction and if this building goes ahead, it wont be scaremongering that will be its downfall, it will be the blind faith that the management of the project, by the Council’s managers and Mayor who have already invested our $$$$ into this monster that will haunt all who are involved.

    Chris Bramley is correct in that there will be no State or Federal funds for Gordon Street, yet there are promised funds available should the Council decide to take on board City Hill as originally planned for several decades ago. #bebrave maybe the hash tag for the FOG, but it also means that the Coffs Harbour City Councillors need to be brave and say NO !!

    We need to be brave and vote to STOP this lunacy going ahead any further in Gordon Street as opposed to City Hill !! # Friends of City Hill

  16. CHCC Councillors should be ashamed of themselves.

    They don’t listen to the residents & the vast majority of rate payers. They are only thinking about themselves once again. Wake up to yourselves.

    Time for a new mayor & time for new Councillors. Our rates are the most expensive of anyone else in NSW including Sydney by a long way.

  17. I understand the consultation has been ongoing for 3 years. I’ve certainly been engaging with it for almost 2 years. If Coffs doesn’t go ahead with this project, which has huge support in the community and is badly needed, we will end up again with little bits of buildings with no connection to each other. Putting them together will also allow council to sell off buildings it will replace, helping with funding. It will be give Coffs a central heart that is full of our history, art and words, and this will last into the future. Many people complained about the cost of the Sydney Opera House when it was proposed, and now it brings in millions of dollars a year in tourism, lifts everyone’s spirits when they see it, and nobody could imagine Sydney without it. I believe the building the architects designed will become iconic of our region, not just the city, and everyone will benefit from it.

  18. The question I would like to ask is, if we are in a position to spend that amount on a magnificent building like that, which will take a lot of dollars!!! not only to build but also to maintain and run;

    Then why does council quibble over financially supporting and looking after the already existing Community Buildings they already have… instead of expecting (actually demanding,) charities, small community groups, not-for-profit community based organisations to raise their own money (from an already financially strapped community) to maintain these already existing assets…. such as halls, community buildings, amenities, fields etc…?!?

  19. An extravagance which could be spent in much better ways to benefit the ultimate providers of this money – the ratepayers.

  20. Dear reader my name is Margaret Beckett. I recently wrote “The History of City Hill” and it was posted on this blog site. I hope you will take some time to read it.

    If you do read at least some of it, you will realise why I cannot accept Council is trying to build a Cultural and Civic Centre on two town blocks. It is more like a new Council Chamber and offices.

    Many other people have put forward questions which need to be answered.

    Perhaps you now know that a caveat was put by Federal Government on City Hill for all our cultural needs. Why is Council ignoring this ?
    Thank You.

    Editors note: Here are the links to the four part story on City Hill written by Margaret and referred to above;

  21. The council should focus on FOOTPATHS, PARKING in the CBD, Roads and Lighting and helping out the community in general. $76million is a lot of money to spend on this project. Surely we can wait a few years until there is an improvement in this town

  22. The fancy dressy architect’s mockup fails to show that the building will front straight onto the footpath, squash in next to the church and have the multi level parking lot looming over it from behind. It’s incredibly out of place in that spot, and STILL doesn’t include a performance space, and will be funded (partly) by selling off one of the oldest buildings we still have left – the old police station across from Coffs Primary, the current museum site.

  23. Why on earth can’t our Councillors and Management see the big picture . Their levels of stupidity are now on full display. Surely more than Paul Amos is awake to concerns of people and the future of this city.

  24. WELL, WELL, WELL. The sleeping dragon is stirring.

    STOP this hideous proposed monstrosity which definitely should put Council into administration. (Might be a good thing if that’s how we get honest accountability)

    Next council meeting is 5PM THURSDAY 11 JULY 2019. SOMEHOW, we need to let our Councillors know what we think BEFORE THEY VOTE TO PUT THE CURRENT PLANS/PROPOSAL TO TENDER.


    Most disappointing is lack of inclusion of our promised ENTERTAINMENT CENTRE. It’s NOT included in any present plans.

    The only real money spinner IS an Entertainment Centre for music concerts, live theatre, opera, school concerts etc. What Council has in mind will be nothing but a burden and will produce no income or return to we ratepayers.

    I have been informed that the CeX club have taken that on. A new ENTERTAINMENT CENTRE on the top floor of the CeX Club – really !!!!! ?

    Does that mean they will make enough money from tickets sales to pay for it, along with associated restaurants and bar trade ? I think not.

    Whose side is this Council on ? We the Ratepayers ? or the CeX Club ?
    Is there a hidden agenda ?

    I hope you will take time to read all comments including this one.

  25. It’s easy to be brave when it is someone else’s money you are spending !

  26. How many visit the Art Gallery a year to warrant having a larger gallery? As a regular user of the Library, I find it difficult to understand why it needs to be larger when there is still space for books on the shelves. Most times when I’m there you couldn’t count more than 20 people with spare computers and no queue to check the borrowed books out. With regard to the design of the building itself, having so much glass is not ecologically friendly in that it won’t retain heat or cool with air conditioning on. What will be the cost of cleaning the windows especially from the outside. What about parking? It’s often difficult to find a car space, even in the Vernon/Castle Street car park. As most often happens, the cost will most likely blow out and even at the stated $76 million, it is absolutely outrageous to spend this money when there is so much infrastructure that’s necessary in this town. For instance, there are streets within a kilometre of the CBD that are not kerb and guttered.

  27. A wolf wrapped up in sheep’s clothing aka shiny new council chamber and offices wrapped up as a cultural precinct. Clearly council has no vision.

    (From the Coffs Harbour City Council Ratepayers Facebook site)

  28. How did Council calculate the cost of a schematic design?

    How did Council arrive at the anticipated sale price of existing assets? How is Council proposing to meet its obligation to develop “CITY HILL” as a Cultural precinct in accord with the covenant registered on the title of that land?

    Could $76.5 million be better spent on: (a) redeveloping the existing Council chambers on the corner of Coff & Castle Streets as a gateway to the CBD & solely for the operations of Council, freeing other assets for mixed-use development to stimulate the CBD; and (b) provision of assets on “CITY HILL” for the long-term interests of the community both from a financial and cultural perspective?

    A long-term VISION is needed.

  29. Well done Paul Amos. At least one person is thinking before rushing headlong in to the endorsement of council’s plans. Take a break people and look at the lessons from the past. Stop letting your views cloud your thinking, for no matter what happens it is the ratepayers to foot the bill.

    To those to liken this project to the construction of the Sydney Opera House I say fair go. This is not at all the same. The Opera House sits on a point jutting into the harbour – it a long way from the heart or CBD. It is hard to get to. When the costs blew out the state government had an alternate plan to raise finances – it was the Opera House lottery. Our council is going to sell off assets (or so they say). To date there has been no interest. from prospective buyers. Perhaps they do not see the location as being in the heart of town?

    No, the plan before council ignores any Opera House (or other entertainment facilities), in the proposed building. That is unless you consider Council meetings to be entertainment. At the moment such meetings are like watching silent movies – you can not go there to be heard ad hoc.

    True there are art and library facilities planned. They exist in other cities as well. In Canberra, as in most places, they sit apart from legislative buildings and they do not suffer from this positioning. If all you want is to be better able to exhibit works then look for a more open setting. As in other cities people will still go there. I dare say Canberra has a far greater number of visitors than this city has.

    Open is the key word. Council has a policy to be open and transparent. Yet this concept of a cultural centre has undergone a magical transformation. Like magicians the council stole the original idea and, in a puff of smoke, turned it into an illusion. All the time they chant we are open and transparent. Is this a cultural precinct or an administrative centre? When we have a new building, a huge debt and no entertainment centre will you still support council?

    Make no mistakes council has done this before. The rate increases were justified by citing $70 million in arrears for maintenance works, a chant and a puff of smoke later, and they have disappeared. It was all an illusion, yet it was so open and transparent every ratepayer received the “little blue book”.

    Make no mistake it was done when the Transformation to Sustainability project was in play. The employee numbers were pruned to such an extent they need more space to spread out in. They need a new building. Council have hijacked the original plan once more. To them it does not matter what it will cost because they do not pay for it. We, the ratepayers, will pick up the bill.

    Why not take some time to insist on an open and transparent review? There options still available that will meet with greater community acceptance. Options to satisfy our basic needs and not the wishes of the council. Their view should be the one the people tell them to have.

    Well done Paul.

  30. Well done Cr Paul Amos for opening our eyes to the fact that the entertainment centre is no longer in play.
    To spend $76+M on what is proposed is a scandalous waste of money. This project has been hijacked by the Council General Manager by including the Council Chambers.
    The Salvation Army building has been lying vacant since 2002. How much interest and rates could have been generated in this time.
    Go back to the drawing board and rethink the whole thing.
    Nan Cowling.

  31. An entertainment centre would bring so many more visitors to Coffs Harbour than a bigger library and Art Gallery and some luxurious council offices. Why don’t we use City Hill. And how can the Council assume to pay for this totally obscure building with the sale of buildings which quite possibly will never be sold. Cr. Paul Amos is showing such good sense….particularly bringing it to people’s attention that there is no entertainment centre involved…..I feel an awful lot of people think that’s where the money is going.

  32. This is a ridiculous amount to spend on this project. The design of the building is so over the top does not fit into the surrounds. Grand massive glass structure will look obsessive. We want an entertainment centre! The location is so wrong for that. The building should not contain council offices. Do not spend hard working rate payers money on this.

  33. “Let us be thankful for the fools. But for them the rest of us could not succeed.”

  34. Agree with Nan Cowling on the Salvos old site and have to say that when I have had any counter interactions at Council Chambers, takes no longer than normal other government services. Service is great! So why the need to create this new ‘working’ environment when the council is downsizing many other areas and all comparitive to state and federal offices. Stop competing with Port Macquarie/ Byron, in facades, and get back to the grass roots of putting funds into infrastructure which support the wider community. Stop selling out our social framework to pretty endeavours of new council chambers which only benefit a few…it will only end in poverty and more social issues …

  35. According to the Councillors Handbook issued by the Office of Local Government, Councillors “serve their communities by listening to people in the local area and then representing those views on Council”. To me, this means that Councillors should represent the ratepayers, NOT the Council. Thank you Cr. Amos for bringing some rational thought to this project. Why spend $75m on a bigger library when just months ago State Government was threatening cuts to public libraries? Why spend $75m providing fancier Council offices? Surely with staffing cuts they should have adequate space in the current Council Chambers or, as someone else suggested, put a floor on top. I agree the museum and Regional Gallery spaces are inadequate, and the volunteers do a great job with what they have, but we had a separate museum building before, why do we need to jam everything into one building, especially in an area where parking is desperate during the day? Lets look at some other options. If our Councillors do not listen to the voice of reason and irresponsibly spend $75m (or more), on this project, it is my prophecy that within 20 years City Hill will be sold off to developers to pay for it.

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