2 September 2022

Stadium pipedream in the queue as tired Canberra spaces vie for government's attention

| Ian Bushnell
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Canberra Stadium

No doubt Canberra Stadium can be an inhospitable place on a winter’s evening. Photo: Region.

There is no doubt that some of Canberra’s public places are not ageing gracefully.

The complaints are piling up about some of the city’s frequently used facilities and the precincts in which they are situated as being not just dated but uninviting, uncomfortable and unsafe.

That is driving the push for a new stadium in the city for rugby union and league fans tired of the bleak bleachers of Bruce.

But the complaints are not limited to that piece of infrastructure.

Last week I was fortunate to take in The Girl From The North Country at the Canberra Theatre Centre. While the show was world-class, the theatre and surrounds did not live up to the quality on stage.

There is little sense of arrival walking to the CTC through laneways from car parks or the little-used Civic Square, and the foyer and bar have no sense of occasion to them.

The CTC is disconnected from the rest of the city, and the new development of Constitution Place only adds to the contrast and reinforces its inadequacy.

Even the city’s main classical music venue, Llewellyn Hall at the ANU, suffers from that same lack of a sense of arrival, and in both venues, patrons practise the Canberra wave of having to stand to let others pass along the row.

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The convention centre has been a bugbear for as long as I’ve been in Canberra (and that’s a fair stint these days), and business has constantly been at government to build a new one to deliver what is hoped would be a lucrative stream of conferences to the national capital, even if most people somehow prefer the Gold Coast to the ACT.

The government set up an agency, the City Renewal Authority, to guide the development of Civic, including its streets, laneways and open spaces, not just buildings, but there is still much to do to create any sort of coherent and unified cityscape fit for its citizens.

To the north, Exhibition Park has hardly changed in decades, despite regular use as a festival and show venue. The government is finally preparing to revamp the site to transform it into a genuine entertainment precinct.

Then there are the older Town Centres where apartment development is booming, but public facilities are failing to keep up with the thousands of new residents.

The point of all this is that there is a long list of projects that need attention but limited funds to allocate to the tasks, and the small Territory government has had to make choices about what to give priority to – things such as health, education, roads and public transport.

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So while the idea of a new state-of-the-art covered stadium centrally located in the city is appealing, it has a lot of rivals competing for government attention.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr has copped a lot of flack for apparently reneging on a promise to build a stadium, but as he again said this week for the umpteenth time when questioned in Estimates, the case does not stack up.

The more the government explored the Civic pool option the more complex and costly the project became, he said, elaborating on the challenges of moving Parkes Way to fit a stadium of suitable size.

In any case, the Territory never could and never will be able to go it alone on a piece of infrastructure of that size, which as Mr Barr pointed out, would be unused for much of the year, even if you threw in a few concerts.

The ‘build it and they would come’ crowd do not have to balance all the interests and needs of Canberrans.

Mr Barr has many times stated the government’s priorities in the city, and the next cab off the rank will be the Cultural Precinct, where the Canberra Theatre Centre is in constant use and, as stated above, in urgent need of renewal.

At least the cost can be offset by land sales and some private investment.

If a city stadium is a game changer then let the federal government and/or private sector, including the NRL and Rugby Australia, whose clubs will be the main beneficiaries, deliver it (and I will be first through the gates).

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Mr Barr is hopeful that the AIS, including a repaired Arena and upgraded Canberra Stadium, offers opportunities for a housing, sporting and entertainment precinct if a deal can be negotiated with the Albanese Government.

And there is always the option for EPIC, which is not far from the city and on the light rail line, to host a stadium.

Independent Senator David Pocock says he will keep lobbying for his idea of a joint stadium and convention centre, and at least he is in the right arena to do that.

But it still comes back to having a credible site to build such a complex.

It may have been disappointing for some to hear Mr Barr’s answers from Liberal inquisitors who in government would face the same choices and will never commit to forking out the hundreds of millions of dollars required for such a project.

But to suggest as some have that this week Mr Barr finally killed off the stadium is ridiculous.

He has been telling us for months, if only people would listen.

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Tom Worthington11:34 am 04 Sep 22

A new convention centre for Canberra could be combined with a multi-university and VET campus. One option would be at the current convention center site. Students will be mostly studying online from now on, and new campuses will look like entertainment centers. https://blog.tomw.net.au/2022/04/canberra-world-center.html

HiddenDragon8:18 pm 02 Sep 22

Unless the ACT government becomes much more efficient in delivering the services which consume the bulk of the ACT budget there will never be public funds to spare for a stadium, convention centre or any of the other big things which are hoped for by some (if not all).

Anyone who thinks that the federal government will come to the rescue (maybe with a bit of arm-twisting by an independent senator) should reflect on the fact that our former Chief Minister, now federal Finance Minister, today confirmed that increased spending on child care will not be brought forward due to budget pressures. If they can’t find the money for an early start to a policy which is a very high priority, the idea that they will kick in several hundred million for a stadium in Canberra truly is wishful thinking.

ChrisinTurner6:00 pm 02 Sep 22

Stop wasting money on providing much slower public transport to Woden.

Early days yet but I think Senator David Pocock has been very vocal raising issues central to Canberrans’ interests. Territory rights, end of life choices and climate change action are just some of the issues I have seen the senator focused on. I have also seen his face in the last few months advocating for ACT citizens’ rights more so than what I did during his predecessor’s wasted and lazy 12 years as Senator. And good riddance to him!!!!

I’ve not seen Pocock at all except around his maiden speech. He definitely hasn’t achieved anything of note to date although it’s early days.

Pocock can say anything knowing if nothing happens it can’t be his fault. Watch him jump on all the popular topics which he knows he can’t make a difference to. Pointless having a Independent member unless you have the balance of power and can holdout to get what you want, like Jacquie Lambie. Better to have one from either of the major parties.

The reason one never sees an elf is because they are so transparent. Have we mislaid your Mr Ses somewhere?

Also, it seems much as we cannot see elves, they lack perception of reality. Mr Pocock and Ms Lambie wield precisely the same effective marginal power in the Senate.

“There is little sense of arrival walking to the CTC through laneways from car parks or the little-used Civic Square, and the foyer and bar have no sense of occasion to them.”

Look its nice to have a ‘sense of arrival’ at a venue, but is it really that important? I go to see the show/music/whatever it is, rather then worry about if the foyer or bar has a sense of occasion to it.

Not every venue can have the sense of grandeur of the Opera Garnier in Pari, of the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, or the Royal Albert Hall (or insert whatever theatre you want here). As long as the facilities for the theatre/stage etc are up to scratch, the rest is a preferred but ultimately nice to have element as such.

As for some of the other whines – such as the ‘Canberra wave’ – that could be easily fixed through some relatively minor amendments to Llewellyn Hall and the Theatre (the loss of a few seats through an extra centre row being put in for instance at Llewellyn).

I’ve always thought the pool site, while location wise in terms of City Centre is okay, it is a dreadful site for trying to squeeze a stadium on. Would of been far better to attempt to build it where Raiders HQ is now – that site at least is big enough, relatively decent amounts of parking nearby (more would be needed) and good links into transport (that could be easily improved). More potential NIMBYs to deal with I suppose the key downside.

Otherwise EPIC or the racecourse site should be considered (with Racetrack shifted to a new greenfield site).

ChrisinTurner5:55 pm 02 Sep 22

Horse racing only survives on massive taxpayer subsidies and the public are sick of the cruelty. Build a stadium there please.

The racecourse is owned by the racing club, so what exactly do you expect to happen? The Government to forcefully acquire the land?

And the racing industry provides millions in additional tax revenue to the government.

You’ve been misled if you think the government returning a piddly amount of the extra gambling tax revenue back to the local racing industry somehow means they are “subsidised”.

Surely the author who repeatedly writes articles in support of light rail didn’t publish this article with a straight face?

Yes, there are lots of competing projects that the government could choose to fund. And he’s right that a stadium might not stack up from an economic perspective.

The exact same way that a whole lot of other projects that the government has deemed priorities don’t stack up when looked at under the same lens.

So why would we move forward with projects like light rail or the theatre when they also fail the economic viability test?

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