The National Convention Centre says a $12 million temporary expansion could solve its capacity issues, claiming the Territory is missing out on more than $25 million in tourist dollars a year due to a lack of events infrastructure.
Its operators called for the investment in their submission to the ACT Government’s 2022-23 Budget Consultation process, which is open until 27 May.
General manager Stephen Wood said the current facilities prevent the convention centre from being picked as the venue for large business events and conferences.
He also acknowledged it was unlikely a convention centre would be built in the short to medium-term given other infrastructure projects such as the expansion of Canberra Theatre and the stadium would take precedence.
The convention centre has limited banqueting options for groups bigger than 600 people and is unable to host conferences that require more than 2000 square metres of exhibition space. The centre also cannot host more than one large conference at a time.
Management suggested the $25 million annual figure, which was determined following financial analysis by the centre’s operators – InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) – was “conservative”. It was based on lost and denied business data for the convention centre during the 2017 to 2018 calendar years.
The centre’s submission suggested this was accurate as business tourism had quickly returned to pre-pandemic levels in recent months.
But the $12 million estimate for a temporary upgrade was provided in 2019 and would need to be re-costed to take account of price increases since then.
Mr Wood said growing the local business events industry would boost the visitor economy and assist with economic growth in key sectors such as defence, cyber, health, higher education, space, and government services.
“It is widely recognised that business events foster innovation, investment and collaboration in the industries the events are focused on,” Mr Wood said.
According to centre management, the proposed temporary structure would likely not require the construction of either a commercial kitchen or additional toilets as these are already contained in the current building.
Mr Wood further noted the temporary structure could not only be built in months rather than years, but it could then be sold once it was no longer required, either in sections or as a whole.
“By adjoining the existing Exhibition Hall, it gives the facility multipurpose functionality, adding substantially to the scale of existing exhibition space (up to double the current size) and operating as a new large banquet space,” Mr Wood said.
The convention centre’s calls for expansion are supported by the Canberra Business Chamber and the Canberra Region Tourism Leaders Forum (CRTLF), among others.
CEO of the business chamber Graham Catt said a temporary structure would be a “cost-effective way” to enable short to medium-term growth in the business events space in Canberra.
“The proposal provides the opportunity to secure additional conventions, meetings and events for the ACT with the economic benefits flowing to the Territory,” Mr Catt said.
CRTLF Chair David Marshall said the building of a new convention centre in the Territory remained its highest priority but “understanding the government has indicated the planning and final construction of a new centre is some years away [the CRTLF] fully supports the erection of a temporary structure”.
Proposals to rebuild the now-33-year-old convention centre have been floated repeatedly over the last two decades.
Five years ago, cost estimates for a new centre reportedly blew out to $900 million and the ACT Government pulled the plug, saying the project would require Federal assistance to go ahead.
Independent Senate candidate David Pocock has backed a proposal to build a multi-million combined National Convention Centre and stadium complex.
Earlier this year, it was announced the centre, along with the Mount Rogers Community Centre and Tuggeranong Community Centre, would share in upgrades worth $8.76 million in the Federal Budget.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr has repeatedly said the government’s priority for city development is the Canberra Theatre and cultural precinct redevelopment first, then a stadium and then new convention facilities.