20 March 2020

Arboretum looking at bigger Visitor Centre, high-end restaurant for Pavilion

| Ian Bushnell
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Village Visitor Centre

The Village Visitor Centre: the tender envisages it having the capacity to cater for 750 sit-down guests. Photo: File.

The ACT Government has big plans for the National Arboretum, including expanding the Village Visitor Centre to be able to cater for 750 event guests and a five-star restaurant for a larger Margaret Whitlam Pavilion.

It also wants to expand education and research facilities.

The government has already decided on building a permanent stage for entertainment events and has gone to market seeking a developer and operator for the proposed luxury eco-hotel near Dairy Farmers Hill.

A tender just released is now seeking a consultant to review the Arboretum’s infrastructure to ”establish the most efficient use of the existing built environment … and identify possible upgrades to buildings and new infrastructure projects that would benefit visitor experience and operations”.

It says that a key benefit of improving the Arboretum’s facilities would be an increase in commercial return.

“It is essential for the Arboretum to continue to build on its reputation as a nationally and internationally recognised iconic feature of the ACT for tourism and events by providing unique facilities and high-quality public amenity and creating more opportunities for event bookings within outdoor spaces,” the tender document says.

A consultant would investigate increasing the capacity of the Visitor Centre, including kitchen facilities, to host larger sit-down events such as gala dinners.

At present, there is a cafe and the Conservatory Restaurant run by Janet Jeffs’ Ginger Catering.

The Margaret Whitlam Pavilion is a popular event destination, particularly for weddings, and the tender document shows the government would like to expand its operations to include a high-end restaurant and extend the existing building to increase the number of guests it can cater for.

The government is also looking at improved multi-use spaces for educational and public programs and displays, as well as conference and training facilities, and other commercial opportunities for increased venue bookings.

This includes a purpose-built covered outdoor area with additional amenities to accommodate visiting school groups.

Margaret Whitlam Pavilion

The Margaret Whitlam Pavilion may get a five-star restaurant. Photo: File.

The review will also explore opportunities to build a scientific research laboratory, consolidated with the horticulture depot on a new site.

The government wants staff to have their own permanent administration building, with multi-use amenities, and volunteers to have better facilities.

An upgraded National Bonsai and Penjing Collection would also have its own back-of-house facilities to help improve care and maintenance practices.

The review will provide market analysis, including supply, demand and competition of future commercial infrastructure; investigate the best locations and sites for future development, and how much each new facility would cost.

It will also produce concept development plans for possible new facilities, and a Design Intent Statement.

The Government is looking to engage a consultant by mid-May and the review completed by September.

The Government is moving to make the most of the key attraction, recognising its huge tourism potential as hundreds of thousands of visitors a year make the climb up the hill to take in the panoramic views and explore the grounds.

The stage will give it the capacity to stage large outdoor concerts in the Amphitheatre, while the hotel will attract big-spending visitors to the capital seeking a ”wellness” experience.

The Arboretum has built new walking and cycle trails, and is expanding parking facilities.

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pink little birdie6:35 pm 22 Mar 20

Hopefully it will include a proper parents room instead of a single nappy change station in a disabled toilet.

Capital Retro9:00 am 22 Mar 20

Marc Blackmore, have you any evidence that “investing in assets that return revenue” is the case at the Arboretum? I cannot find any reference to business plans, expected returns or indeed expenditure and revenue to date. It is being funded almost entirely by grants, taxpayers and ratepayers yet the “5 star and big spender” focus will exclude most Canberrans.

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