Community Meeting of Arts Organisations re the Proposed Arts Aquatic Centre 22nd Nov 2017

Last night a meeting of Community Arts organisations and those associated with the proposed developments at MacKay Park was called by PerfEx, the lobby group for a Performing Arts Centre in Batemans Bay.

Twenty-seven Arts’ and Community groups representatives and the media attended. The meeting was at the Community Centre and was to inform the Arts community of the progress on the Proposed Arts Centre to date, to indicate where we are in the process of bringing that dream to fruition, and the roles we may play in that process.

The further intention of the meeting was to collect ideas for the Centre and raise the notion of creating a Community Arts Advisory Committee, made up of experienced people in the field, to negotiate with Council on behalf of the Arts community.

It is now clear that the Batemans Bay Bowling Club site is “off the agenda” and that Council wants to sell it for profit. As a substitute Council has adopted a ‘Concept Plan’ from a Consultant firm specialising in consultancy services in planning, facility development, management and funding for the sport, recreation and leisure industries”.

As such there has been a concern by the Arts community, and the Chamber of Commerce that there has been insufficient calls on experts in the field in devising plans to date and that the present ‘Concept plan’ was:

  • too small,

  • badly sited, presenting its back to the highway and not maximising its possible north orientation,

  • does not meet the needs of the Arts community, now and into the future, and also

  • that the ‘concept plan’, as accepted by Council, and put in as the basis for the grant that could potentially fund the project for a combined Performance and Aquatic Centre proposed for the Mackay Park precinct, was ill-designed for our needs and may not be open to change.

Jeannie Brewer, the President to of PerfEx, said that the Arts Community have made it quite clear that they want to make quite considerable changes to the Concept Plan, but we realise this will depend on the grant money and Council input.

Council members have previously stated that there would not be any redirection of monies into the Complex from local Council coffers, though hopefully this may be open to change.

Jeannie confirmed that, in recent meetings with Andrew Constance, Council staff and the Mayor, assurances had been given that changes could be made to the Concept Plan. She reiterated that it may also be possible to change the footprint as well, after the grant money comes through, if it does. She stated that, as a result, PerfEx now feels less anxious about the potential viability of the facility, with an understanding that there is ample time to make changes to the Concept Plan. How the community will have access to those changes and the role it would play, through PerfEx and/or the Sunset Committee, is not yet clear. Jeannie affirmed that the Arts Community did not want the Arts/Performance space to be an ‘add-on’ or subsumed into a ‘theme park’ environment.

The primary issue of the process was for the Arts community to be united in

  • the sort of building;

  • the feeling within the building and

  • the intended use of it, whether it was seen as being only occasionally used or used every day. The latter would make it more viable economically, but for this to occur, a Program Manager and facility Manager would need to be employed.

Also of concern was the lack of adequate storage that was shown in the Concept plan. The performance space has only been allocated 150sqm and the gallery space was not big enough, at approx. 154sqm, to house, for instance, the yearly CABBI exhibitions, at present held in the local High School hall. It was also reinforced that the auditorium and exhibition complex needs to be two stories, with a possible extension to three stories for the wider complex or a larger footprint.

It was identified that U3A would be affected and one possible use of the new facility would be to accommodate the U3A HQ within the building, with Ross Thomas of U3A stating that they have 600 members and that the U3A wholeheartedly support the work of PerfEx and the development of the Arts facility.

Additional discussion was around whether ‘wet & dry’ workshop areas could double as meeting rooms, and concerns on the invasiveness of chlorine and damp throughout the complex and the negative affects of that on art works and theatre props.

The idea of visible working artists areas, sometimes called an Artisans’ Zoo, were now out of fashion and such a model was not supported by the meeting.

Discussions centred on having the wider community involved with the question raised of ‘who will use it?’ As the centre is rumoured to accommodate the relocation (and sale of) the existing Community Centre it must provide more than the present community facilities provide to make the process worthwhile.

Concern was expressed that Moruya was now to get a Regional gallery supported by an influx of considerable grant money and a donation by Basil Sellers, and that Batemans Bay could not compete with it, but needed its own identity and uniqueness.

A question came up regarding the possible relocation of the Mini Golf asking: where it might go so that the facilities footprint could be extended. ‘Maybe to Batehaven’ was one suggestion. The meeting learnt that the Mini-Golf has a 99yr lease so the Council needs to negotiate a relocation with them. This is proposed to be to the south end of the proposed development. Another suggestion was to relocate them on the block alongside MacDonalds.

Those attending the meeting agreed that the building must be for the community and therefore MULTIPURPOSE with FLEXIBILITY. Ideally it needed to also be a welcoming and popular coffee/cafe gathering place.

When asked how big the site could be with an increase in footprint and how much it could be extended; it was clear that this was not known. Batemans Bay Business and Tourism President, David Maclachlan, spoke on the proposed size of the auditorium from a commercially viable perspective. He reiterated his stand that size does matter. He observed that there is already an auditorium in Batemans Bay that has a 700 capacity at the Bay Soldiers Club so the new space needs to be bigger, at 800 to 10002m. He advised that there needs to be a POINT OF DIFFERENCE to what the town already has to attract people, that it is essential to maximise the use per square metre, and to ensure multiple uses in some spaces to mitigate losses and gain maximise usage. His suggestions were for flexible space, taking out some of the small rooms and incorporating them into the auditorium, and to use curtains or moveable walls to divide the auditorium. He also advised, based on his experiences of running profit-making events and venues, that an increase in income potential happens when you move into a venue over 600 seats,

The meeting then voted unanimously to lobby council for an 800-850 seat auditorium, as captured by the local Bay Post photographer. The 800-850 seat stance will again be taken to Council. David also mentioned that management issues will also play a considerable part in the profitability, noting that a centre that is privately run by a professional function manager will return more compared to a ‘hall rental’ mentality, as currently held by Council.

The meeting was asked: “How can we show support for this facility?” This could include for the extra seating. Such a campaign could include letters, badges, placards and even street marches. It could not be carried by one or two people.

Sketches of an alternative format to the Concept Plan were displayed, to encourage alternative ideas of how the facility could be sited and look. The sketches were devised so that both areas (Performing Arts and the Aquatic Centre) would have their own entrances rather than the proposed grand and shared entrance. The sketches showed the building on the same footprint but not in the proposed rectangular shape. In all, the sketches were noted as serious alternatives to the Concept Plan. It was mentioned during the meeting that the Arts community may have to compromise on the inclusions when they know the amount of money available, but will campaign for their wish-list in the meantime.

The Aquatic group was acknowledged as not pursuing a 50m pool at this stage. They stated that the Aquatic Pool committee would prefer a 50-metre pool, but would accept a 25-metre one if the alternative was going without an indoor heated pool at all. The Aquatic group recently rejected complaints the community wasn’t consulted about Mackay Park precinct plans as the Batemans Bay Indoor Aquatic Centre Committee had for six years been seeking community input saying there had been plenty of opportunities for engagement through their committee, and people haven’t taken that. In discussions after the meeting comment was made that the pursuit of community wide and formal consultation was the responsibility of Council.

The results of the Grant applications are expected soon and, following the results, further meetings and actions will follow.

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