The closure of the AIS Arena has reignited speculation about the future of the entire Bruce site, including Canberra Stadium, with the Commonwealth saying that the ACT would need to make a contribution to retain use of the facilities.
Sport Australia has confirmed that the Arena, the ACT’s main multi-use indoor venue, has closed for infrastructure works and is not expected to re-open in 2020.
Existing bookings, including concerts and the Canberra Capitals Women’s National Basketball League games, have been cancelled and no new bookings are being taken.
A blindsided ACT Sports Minister Yvette Berry said it was disappointing that nobody from the Commonwealth had got in touch with her about the Arena.
But her federal counterpart, Senator Richard Colbeck, told ABC radio that the COVID-19 disruption had provided an opportunity to undertake much-needed work at the Arena, and his door was always open to discuss the future of the site, although he did not say whether it would be available for use next year.
Ms Berry said the closure would have a significant impact on the ACT as there is no venue that could cater for as many spectators as the AIS Arena, which Senator Colbeck suggested could be leased long-term.
”The ACT is too small to sustain two major venues so before the ACT Government can progress any plans locally the Federal Government must provide clarity and transparency on the long-term plan for the venue,” she said.
”This is why I have repeatedly sought information from the federal Minister for Sport and I have again written to the federal minister seeking information.”
The Commonwealth continues to review the future of the Bruce precinct, with suggestions that it would sell half the site, including the stadium, which the ACT Government leases, and the Arena, and redevelop the rest in the next few years.
Senator Colbeck said that he wanted to restore the AIS to again be a leader in global sport but the shape of that vision was still being determined in a more devolved system than when the AIS was created in the 1980s, with separate state-based institutes now operating.
That would mean a smaller footprint, and Senator Colbeck said there would be some infrastructure on the site that the Commonwealth would have to talk to the ACT about, including the arena and the stadium, which both have issues.
”The future of the AIS Arena is going to involve some contribution from the ACT Government,” Senator Colbeck said. ”It is no longer central to the activities of the AIS. Our role is to provide the best possible facilities for athletes so they can perform at their best on a national and global stage, it’s not necessarily providing an entertainment venue.
”If the ACT sees a future or a desire to retain that facility as part of infrastructure for a range of events, that’s fine. The expectation is they would be prepared to make some contribution towards that.”
Senator Colbeck also suggested the stadium issue needed to be sorted out, and the ball was in the ACT Government’s court, despite the Commonwealth being the owner and the ACT delaying any decision until the AIS finalises its plans.
“It has a life cycle. I’m aware that there are conversations at ACT level about a new stadium or stadium development,” he said. “It would be very useful from our perspective if the ACT Government would be prepared to put those things on the table so we could consider that as part of our development proposals.”
He said it was not his role to plan ACT facilities but the Commonwealth could play a role, and it needed to understand exactly what the ACT wanted.
The uncertainty about the AIS site will fuel further arguments for the development of a new 25,000-seat weather-proof city stadium, for which the ACT Government has funded a feasibility study to determine the best location.
The report will weigh up Civic and Exhibition Park as sites for the new stadium. The new stadium is projected to cost between $250 million and $500 million and will require private investment.
But the project remains a lower priority for the ACT Government than the redevelopment of the cultural precinct in Civic, and the COVID-19 economic crisis and deteriorating budget position will likely keep the stadium on the outer for now.
The ACT Government continues to upgrade Canberra Stadium and this year spent $2 million on a new screen for the site.