Expectations of sports and other groups associated with the Ballarat Showgrounds and the Wendouree Recreation Reserve will rise and rise as a result of the decision of Ballarat City Council to form a committee of 22 organisations to create a master plan for the precinct (already nudging $80m when only three groups were involved). The question is whether the Council that is elected later this year will thank or curse the current councillors for handballing them a problem that could make the Civic Hall kerfuffle look tame by comparison.
What the current councillors did at their meeting on March 28 was agree to form a Project Consortium Group to develop a master plan for the entire precinct, but has set no terms of reference, no timelines, and no financial limits on their dreams. In the meantime, officers will try to secure $100k from state and federal governments to provide the funding to cover the costs of the work done by and for the Consortium. This appears to be an invitation to each of the 22 groups (and any others able to show an even tenuous link to the precinct) to go for broke.
Previous cost estimates for the Eureka Stadium and Showgrounds redevelopment, and for an exhibition centre were around $80m. You can now add to this, up to $15m for basketball and netball, the resurfacing of the Wendouree Oval, improved cricket, tennis and athletics facilities, and maybe even the prospect of a 50m heated indoor pool, to bring the total to perhaps $120m. But that's just the sports and exhibition/entertainment facilities. The costs of traffic management, car parking, provision of public transport and upgrades to utility infrastructure could easily add another $30m-$50m, for a grand total of $150m - $170m.
Council has previously indicated its hopes of attracting capital funding from state and federal governments. With likely federal grants capped at $20m, and with the Baillieu government so far unwilling to back the $80m proposal, and with both governments now in the midst of budget cuts, a large windfall looks unlikely. Optimistically, perhaps $50m might come from other sources. That leaves a $100m shortfall to be covered by Consortium members, and ratepayers through direct contributions and servicing loans. That will be a big headache for a new council late in 2012 and beyond.
They will take flack from the Consortium members if they trim or drop the project, and they will come under pressure from ratepayers who are not willing to pay for more sports and entertainment, or yet another major recreational facility in Wendouree. The new council will be under considerable pressure to find money for the Ballarat West Growth Precinct, with estimated public infrastructure to exceed $125m, and much of it needing to be built early to facilitate subsequent development.
Then of course, there are the recurrent operating costs of the facilities identified by the Consortium, where there is no expectation that they will break-even or provide a return on investment.
One can only hope that the current councillors will do in private, what they should have done in public and at the outset, and set terms of reference for the Consortium that spell out the basic principles and conditions their dreams will need to match. Without this, their record of community division, evidenced by the Civic Hall debate, will be the legacy they provide to a new council.