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.
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.
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.
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.