13 January 2023

Phillip pool's days are numbered after developer confirms acquisition

| Ian Bushnell
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Phillip Pool

Phillip Pool in better times. Photo: Phillip Swimming and Ice Skating Centre, Facebook.

The ACT’s biggest property developer, Geocon, has confirmed that it has bought the Phillip pool and ice skating site across the road from its massive WOVA development now under construction.

It had been reported that the lease changed hands before Christmas, but details were sketchy, with the manager only saying he expected the open-air pool to continue, although it was unlikely to reopen until next season due to required maintenance work.

The manager said he was sure the new owners would have the pool ready to go by the end of summer but couldn’t see the viability of it “only opening for a month”.

Geocon said in a statement the company had acquired the Phillip Swimming & Ice Skating Centre on 16 December but did not disclose the sale price.

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The brief statement said that the company intended to continue operating the centre and was working through the rectification works required to be up and running.

The government expects the new owner to comply with the terms of the lease.

But Geocon is not a recreation facility operator and the purchase is a key strategic investment in an area where it already has a significant development footprint.

The land itself is much more valuable for its development potential and the previous owner Dr Wayne Houghton did not believe the facility had a future, telling an Assembly committee in 2017 that it was nearing the end of its life.

WOVA exterior

An artist’s impression of the WOVA precinct that will take shape across from Phillip pool. Photo: Geocon.

Declining popularity from its heydays of the 80s and 90s, increasing costs and its limited seasonal operating window have made the business unviable.

The Woden Valley Community Council had lamented its decline along with the loss of other sporting and recreational facilities in the area, especially with the influx of new apartment dwellers in the Town Centre.

But many of the new apartment blocks have, or will have, their own pools.

The ice skating facility’s days are also numbered, with a new one expected to be built in Tuggeranong.

How long Geocon will maintain the centre is anybody’s guess, but the cost of maintaining it will be negligible compared with the profits to be reaped if it can have the site rezoned for multi-unit development.

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In a city hungry for more housing, something Geocon managing director Nick Georgalis has been relentless about, it will be hard to justify not turning the site over to development, especially when it could add to the WOVA precinct that will take shape in coming years.

Some might say the ACT Government could have acquired the site itself to redevelop it as an indoor aquatic centre or multi-sports complex for the growing Woden community.

The centre had opened in the early 1970s under Commonwealth Government ownership before it was sold in 1979 to Dr Houghton’s Glencora Pty Ltd, who had attempted unsuccessfully over the years to repurpose the site.

But any public opportunity appears to have passed, now Geocon has the site on its books and will want to recoup its investment.

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SigmaOctantis6:56 am 14 Jan 23

Geocon are notorious for low build quality and endless defects. A shame there can’t be more variety in development tenders.

They have a shocking reputation however they are still in business. How.

“But many of the new apartment blocks have, or will have, their own pools.”

Fancy apartments with 50 metre pools for swimming lengths.

Hockey duche12:10 am 14 Jan 23

Well, the ice skating and ice hockey community are now waiting for a ‘suspicious’ fire that will destroy the ice rink which is the last thing that stands in geocon’s way, really… we’ll see how lease terms can easily be changed with the ‘proper’ approach, and new towers will be rising there in the next few years…

HiddenDragon6:52 pm 13 Jan 23

“But many of the new apartment blocks have, or will have, their own pools.”

Canberra also has private schools and private hospitals, so by this logic it would be quite OK to close the public schools and hospitals down and flog off the land for redevelopment when they are no longer (to use the standard weasel words) “fit for purpose”.

Coming as it does from a government of posturing, “leave no one behind” socialists, it is a remarkably Thatcherite mentality which allows the pursuit of the almighty buck to keep eroding and arrogating for private profit the amenity and quality of life which many Canberrans, but particularly the less affluent, enjoyed in more egalitarian times now past.

Cynthia Burton4:45 pm 13 Jan 23

Woden has turned into a mess of poorly planned high rise developments, with minimal consideration for the well being and quality of life of residents. Becoming a concrete jungle, with developers jamming in as much as they can into each site, inadequate/tokenistic attention to associated infrastructure and green space needs by planning authorities. Higher density living is a reality for Canberra’s future but urban infill does not have to become ugly and low quality of life if properly planned.

“The brief statement said that the company intended to continue operating the centre”

Until they can get the conditions of the lease changed to allow a tower to be built on the site I’d guess.

As usual silence from the government. If it is not affecting O’Connor and Braddon they wash their hands.

SigmaOctantis6:54 am 14 Jan 23

Yet they do nothing about Summernats.

fridgemagnet1:10 pm 13 Jan 23

Anyone who suggests that Geocon has any other plan for this site than a residential/commercial tower shortly down the track is a fool or a liar. Alas, community recreation is taking another step backward. The ACT Government should not permit this.

The previous owner told the Assembly over 5 years ago the 50 year old facility was near the end of its life, since then the Government has sat on its hands and not made any plans at all for a replacement pool for Woden. Now the Government has told Geocon they expect them to comply with the conditions of the lease, which is unlikely since their business is to build apartment towers. What is the Government going to do about a public pool for the Woden people?

The author should be celebrating this outcome as its exactly what his support of light rail demands should happen to these areas.

Well done ACT Labor. Woden has now lost a mini golf course, basketball courts, bowling green and a public swimming pool and replaced them with concrete.

I moved from Tuggeranong to Woden over a decade ago. So many public and sporting facilities have been turned into apartments without our local representatives even blinking an eye. This government seems to have totally forgotten about facilities for the deeper south of Canberra.

William Newby8:00 am 13 Jan 23

Barr and his team have constantly lied to the people of Woden. They have wanted/allowed this pool to fail for years now, granted pools are expensive to run but rather than just make a brave decision here Labor have been cowardly and underhanded in their approach.
What do the children of Woden get? your fancy tram won’t take us to Stromlo or Lake side, and the Civic pool will be your next cowardly move as you sneak away from your commitments here as well.
Selling off public swimming pools to property developers is a disgusting act!

You can tell a lot about a city by its talllest buildings.

A handful of office buildings and and endless expanding sprawl of high, dense ugly tower blocks says it all for what’s becoming of this place.

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