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Government urged to upgrade EPIC to world-class events centre

By Ian Bushnell 18 February 2019 30

On the streets of the National Folk Festival. EPIC is a ready-made venue, albeit in need of a makeover. Photo: Photox.

The National Folk Festival has welcomed an upcoming Government-commissioned review of Exhibition Park but warned that any significant loss of the camping area or a move to another yet to be determined site could threaten the viability of the iconic Easter event.

Venues Canberra, in the Chief Minister’s and Economic Development Directorate, is set to announce a study into the long-term future of the 70-hectare Mitchell site, amid speculation that it will be redeveloped for housing as part of the Northbourne corridor urban renewal program being driven by the light rail project. The consultants will also take into account the soon to be developed nearby suburb of Kenny, where land is due to be released next year.

A smaller study is already being conducted by consultants Cardno to investigate the site, mainly for any contamination.

The studies and development speculation has put the Festival, which launches its official 2019 program this week, and other EPIC users on edge about the future of the site, scrambling to prepare a position paper.

Festival vice-president Graham Chalker said EPIC and its ageing infrastructure certainly needed upgrading but the Festival and organisers of other events held at the venue, such as the Canberra Show, wanted the site retained and developed into a world-class events centre.

It could even house the long sought after convention centre, he said.

“It’s important to look at this as not just the land value, what you could end up with if you filled it up with apartments, but the significant community benefit that we get from a variety of events that are held there,” he said.

Mr Chalker believed there was no comparable site of its size and facilities in the region and the cost of developing a greenfields site, as some have suggested in the Majura Valley, would be significant. None would have the convenience of EPIC.

He said a key advantage of EPIC was its location close to the city and accessibility, and being on the light rail route has only reinforced this.

The camping ground was a key part of the Festival experience and provided cheap accommodation to the 1200 volunteers who make the Festival possible, and younger visitors who could not afford hotel and other accommodation.

“The camping site is a really important part of things for us, and even more so for Summernats,” Mr Chalker said. “We’d really have to look at the business model. Certainly, for our volunteers it would be a problem. So yeah, it threatens the viability.”

The Government has already flagged a smaller footprint for EPIC, which the Festival could live with if possible residential development did not encroach and if the event could remain within its current boundaries.

The problem with nearby residential development is noise, and Mr Chalker said the current facilities would need soundproofing, and developers should be required to use double glazing and other technologies to keep out unwanted sound.

“At the moment most of the fixed buildings that we use are basically tin sheds without any soundproofing,” he said. “If they are going to go down the route of filling up the area they would need to start doing some work to soundproof the buildings.”

Mr Chalker said the Government had invested little in EPIC in recent years and the facilities, while adequate, were basically big barns that were costly to fit out.

Any upgrade could include built-in events infrastructure and more office space for the Festival and others to have permanent homes at EPIC instead of having to relocate every year.

An aerial shot of EPIC, before light rail. Photo: EPIC.

The Festival believes developers should contribute to the cost of upgrading EPIC, as part of any deal to building housing on the site.

He believed an events centre like EPIC was compatible with the transformation going on around it, comparing its possibilities to Homebush in Sydney, which is home to a significant events centre surrounded by both residential and hotel accommodation, ‘and they seem to be able to accommodate a whole variety of uses’.

It’s a model the Canberra Show is examining as it moves to enhance its attractiveness and viability.

But Mr Chalker said it was not just the economic benefits that retaining and upgrading EPIC could bring but the advantages it would have for the Canberra community.

“Communities need more than just apartment blocks up and down there. You need a lot of accessible events,” he said.

“It’s not just us as users but where it fits into the community as a whole, and the importance of these cultural events and activities. If the Government wants an innovative entrepreneurial city, those sort of people like different activities and lots of creative things going on around them.”

Festival director Pam Merrigan said a review of the facility was long overdue because it was a tremendous asset for the ACT and fantastic for the economy.

“EPIC is the jewel in the crown given its location, and always having a footprint there would be a really valuable thing for the ACT Government,” she said.

Ms Merrigan hoped the review recognised the value of retaining the site for the long term and the benefits to be reaped down the track.

“It would be very sad to see its demise,” she said. “It will impact on a lot of people and those impacts would be like a domino effect.”

Mr Chalker said the Festival was already talking to other organisations, which should all be involved in a long-term plan for EPIC, and hoped to present a joint case to the study consultants.

“It’s important to bring in people like the Institute of Planners, the heritage people, and local community associations,” he said.

“At the very least understand what we’ve got and where we need to take it, and the benefits of keeping something like EPIC.”

Last year the Festival drew a total unique attendance of 14,581, up 2 per cent on 2017, but it will not only argue the event’s economic and tourism benefits to the ACT but its now significant place in the cultural landscape of the nation, with links to the National Library and the National Archives.

A recently re-negotiated five-year lease, with a 12-month get-out clause for either party, has given the Festival some breathing space.


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27 Responses to
Government urged to upgrade EPIC to world-class events centre
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1:46 pm 20 Feb 19

Andrew You called it years ago...

10:17 pm 19 Feb 19

Summernats is the biggest income for Canberra .. where arethey moving that to?

7:59 pm 19 Feb 19

Compare all day NFF price to the money you would pay for maybe two hours of a visiting ‘star’ group. NFF looks pretty good value by comparison

5:30 pm 19 Feb 19

Barr n co have only the filling of their own pockets in sight . . Ask the real people what they want not just greedy developers who are allowed to build poor quality buildings and walk away free from the cost of making them good! Get rid of Barr!

3:34 pm 19 Feb 19

If they want premium land. Why not bulldoze the Legislative Assembly building and build high rises there, as nothing useful has occurred there recently.

12:43 pm 19 Feb 19

On the tram route is the perfect place for EPIC. Once the tram is running I for one will be more likely to visit events there. In fact, looking forward to doing this. Bus to Civic and then catch a tram. So simple. But it won't be if EPIC is moved away from public transport. Needing to drive my car there has always been a turn off and because of that I have missed out on events there. Yes, there might (?) have been a bus to EPIC, but a tram is much more attractive, as it is psychologically to many people.

g210 12:11 pm 19 Feb 19

More evidence ‘light rail’ is essentially an expensive development vehicle to enable our government to ratchet up develop along its entire route.
It will be a terrible shame to lose yet another slab of community land to re-developers. I predict the EPIC report shall recommend some half cooked ‘high quality, sustainable, urban village’ be built, with the resulting cheek-to-jowl residents complaining about the noise. Future EPIC activity will become limited to quiet book sales & wax candle shops.
Maybe EPIC can move out to Hume? Then we can run a couple of buses out there and call public access all good.

    JC 9:47 am 20 Feb 19

    Not sure why people are surprised by the “evidence” as you so put it.
    I suggest you go and read the business case for light rail, it being used as a mechanism for (re) development along the route is as clear as day to anyone who takes the time to inform themselves rather than just come to places like this to sound off.

    g210 8:04 am 22 Feb 19

    Who’s surprised? I’m just continually disappointed more people don’t value the existing community spaces which are continually being flogged off for a buck. Like the song goes “you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone”.

    chewy14 3:50 pm 22 Feb 19

    Exactly JC.
    Everyone that read the business case knew it was a land development project rather than a public transport one.

    Which is why the beneficiaries of the land development should have paid for it.

12:03 pm 19 Feb 19

Don't take away #myNFF

11:21 am 19 Feb 19

Plenty of other places it can go but a new show ground/exhibition centre needs to be built first, and with size and vision. Not “that’s all they need”.

10:29 am 19 Feb 19

Can you just imagine Melbourne moving the Royal Showgrounds, Flemington and Moonee Valley racetracks out to the fringe of suburbia?

6:12 am 19 Feb 19

The FF is massively overpriced, how about fix that?

8:03 pm 18 Feb 19

I am so tired of ‘developers’ turning our beautiful city into a soulless slum.😡 I wonder what is next to go?

7:34 pm 18 Feb 19

Let's build a light rail, now lets move all the major events away from that light rail. 🤯 What a major f up that will be if epic loses events.

7:13 pm 18 Feb 19

Viability?? Its priced pit of the dreams for the average person anywAy

6:59 pm 18 Feb 19

NFF, Summernats, Canberra Show, Lifeline Bookfair, horse racing and more. Do we want events such as these to continue as they are at present, or do we want the space handed over to developers?

6:57 pm 18 Feb 19

Developers, of "Labor Backers" will have a Union Approved contract for the site, cheap, before you know it... in return for a fat donation or ten....

6:30 pm 18 Feb 19

In what world do you not want exhibition park on your major public transport route? I’m sure events will do so well if it moves out to Hume or somewhere ridiculous 🙄

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