It’s taken a long time for Chief Minister Andrew Barr to quieten the horses about the future of Exhibition Park but a couple of its key users have welcomed his reassurances that the prime inner-north site won’t be handed over to housing as part of the ACT Government’s urban renewal program.
Mr Barr’s comments in Budget estimates on Monday come soon after Greens leader Shane Rattenbury called on the Government to retain and maintain EPIC as an entertainment precinct, and months after consultants commenced a review of the site.
It was the nature of the tender that made EPIC tenants, users and visitors skittish. “The urban renewal division [is yet to determine] the vision and the type of development that will occur on the site. However, this may include mixed-use residential, commercial, and educational,” the tender said.
The major event holders at EPIC – the Royal Canberra Show, the National Folk Festival and Summernats – all saw a cloud over their futures at Mitchell, and nobody in the Government, including Mr Barr, unequivocally ruled out that apartments and moving the venue were not in the mix.
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Until now it seems, with Mr Barr telling Estimates that there are no plans to develop EPIC for housing.
“It was never contemplated,” he said.
“The urban myth that Exhibition Park and the racecourse are suddenly going to convert to housing is just that – an urban myth.”
Mr Rattenbury welcomed Mr Barr’s comments, saying it was a win for Canberra, as did the Show and the Folk Festival.
Festival deputy chair Graham Chalker said EPIC was a valuable community and national asset which with continuous investment should be built into a world-class event centre.
“We see EPIC as potentially a high-class entertainment precinct, so we want more investment in EPIC. We certainly don’t want it moved so we’re delighted that he’s clarified that,” he said.
Mr Chalmers, who has been providing input about the Show’s needs to the current review, said the statement had certainly calmed nerves within his organisation.
He said he has been advising the consultants about the sort of investment required to make EPIC better fit for purpose, including more on-site power, better seating and shade and the upgrading of the camping facilities.
The Folk Festival has also called for greater investment in the site, which many argue has been neglected in recent years.
Mr Chalker has said the pavilions needed to be upgraded and soundproofed, particularly with new housing in Kenny and Northbourne Avenue, the camping ground improved, and facilities updated.
Long term there is the case for new buildings for conventions, education uses and other events.
Both organisations will want to see their wish-lists adopted and progressed.