Canberra is missing out on its full potential as a business tourism destination as current facilities are at capacity, the ACT Government told a Senate inquiry into the national capital this week.
A new indoor entertainment pavilion has been proposed as part of the ACT Infrastructure Plan, but it is still in the ‘early planning’ stages and construction is not due to commence until 2026-27, meaning Canberrans still have years to wait until a new centre would be ready to host events.
“Based on the preliminary research that’s before us, we know that our existing convention centre is at capacity, and the convention centre organisers and the Canberra Convention Bureau regularly provide information about the conferences that we cannot accommodate here,” Kareena Arthy, deputy director-general of the Chief Minister, Treasury and Economic Development Directorate, told the inquiry.
“We know that as the nation’s capital, people come here to meet. That’s what Canberra means: meeting place. So we know that there’s an enormous potential to grow that meeting and business visitor market.”
Ms Arthy said that some conferences currently held in the National Convention Centre (NCCC), especially in the defence-related industries, are growing rapidly and could outgrow the current convention centre.
“If you think about some of the large defence-related conferences, they have a requirement for a large exhibition space, for example, [but] we’ve got a fairly constrained exhibition space,” she said.
She also said the current facilities are constrained because they can only handle one event at a time.
“We also know that if we can get more modern facilities with the capacity to handle more than one event at a time … we know that we can bring more people into the sector [and] provide a greater stock of meeting place not just for the private sector, but also for both levels of government.”
According to the infrastructure plan, the new convention centre will be able to host a wider range of events, including touring artists, exhibitions, sporting events and performances. It will also include an outdoor plaza with food and drink options.
The project will be carried out in two stages: the first stage is the indoor entertainment pavilion and the second stage will involve the full convention centre precinct.
The estimated total cost of the first stage is $100-250 million, while the second stage is forecast to cost more than $500 million.
The new facility will have a capacity of at least 7500 people. In comparison, the NCCC can accommodate 2460 in the Royal Theatre and 2000 in the Exhibition Hall.
However, Senator David Pocock told the inquiry that concerns have been raised that the proposed site on City Hill “wouldn’t be big enough for growth”.
“We hear a lot about … how much the city’s going to grow. Are you concerned that we potentially build something there that we outgrow in less than a decade?” he asked.
Ms Arthy said that no decisions have been made about the site, and the current work involves assessing what type of convention centre should be built in the ACT and the scale that it would be.
“Once we’ve got that … then we will be looking at what site, so it’s a bit premature to speculate about any particular site and what may or may not happen on that.”
However, Senator Pocock questioned why it has taken until now for the ACT Government to start considering what a new convention centre would look like.
“Given this has been such a huge need for Canberra for so long, why is that work only happening now?”
The inquiry resumes on 11 September.