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Council to sell Batemans Bay Information Centre to help fund Mackay Park project

Eurobodalla Council's General Manager, Catherine Dale revealed last week that Council intended to raise the extra money (generally estimated at $15 million) need to fill THE GAP it has between the grant money Council has ($51 million) and the expected $70 million required to build the new Mackay Park Centre. In the mix of moving internal funds around, digging into infrastructure money identified for shire wide projects such as roads and bridges, parks and reserves and using the sale money from the Southern Phone shares and Moruya Racecourse the General Manager made reference to selling assets and real estate. Council has made it known from the outset that one of the real estate sales it intends to make is the sale of the Batemans Bay Information Centre. The building, located on one of the busiest intersections in the shire a Beach Road and Vesper Street has had its day according to the many tourism consultants who have looked at Council's tourism model and found that it was in need of an update. As far back as 2015 the Council has considered the financial burden of the building and sought to seek expressions of interest to manage the visitor information centres in Narooma and Batemans Bay. In Narooma the Montague Arts and Crafts grouped stepped in and said they would run the centre however in Batemans Bay there were no takers. In 2015 the proposal to outsource was presented as a way that council could respond to independent advice that recommended allocating a greater proportion of the existing tourism budget to the web and digital environment, and to fund priorities in its Tourism Destination Management Plan.  Since then tourism marketing has embraced social media and the internet that leaves very little demand for Information centres as the majority of visitors now arrive with accommodation already booked. Gone are the days when the Batemans Bay Visitor Centre was the stopping point to arrange accommodation, tours and excursions. In the age of Google everything is at hand. The industry as a whole has also changed where accommodation providers and tourism operators are encouraged to log their details with the Australian Tourism Data Base to be automatically listed on sites such as Visit NSW and even the Eurobodalla Tourism website. The days of calling in to pick up a local map, some flyers, to buy a bus ticket or a ticket for a tour are now a thing of the past. In recognising this Council have now agreed that they will be selling the Information centre. It is understood that the figure of $1 million has been mentioned in back room discussions as Council moves to finding funds to fill the $15 million shortfall to build the Mackay Park Centre across the road. Initially the idea was to move the tourism staff across the road and provide a Tourism outlet within the centre (see below). The Regional Aquatic, Arts and Leisure Centre Design Principles described "The foyer areas, including the gateway visitor centre, should reflect a sense of welcome and discovery in relation to Eurobodalla, Batemans Bay, and the facilities in the Mackay Park precinct." The initial design also included bus bays for interstate buses.

Council has moved on from inclusion of Visitor Information in their latest plans and instead have looked to prepare a "Pedestrian Wayfinding Plan to better match the information needs and expectations of pedestrians in accordance with Council’s Tourism Wayfinding and Signage Strategy and Signage Design and Style Guide." To help them achieve this there is consideration of replacing the old Information Centre with several Tourism Information stations around the township.

Of concern regarding the proposed sale of the old Information Centre is the fact that it is also a gallery that features some of our local artists. This too will go however Council have said they will be providing display space on the walls of the new centre providing 21 metres of "Hanging Space" in the new foyer (below) located at the entrance to the toilets.

The Batemans Bay Visitor Centre has long been a toilet stop for visitors and with the sale of the building this facility will also go leaving those who find themselves in this area of the town caught out with no option but to attend the nearby McDonalds. While to intended sale is expected to be in February 2021 Council have already begun preparations by suggesting redundancies to Information Centre staff. With the on-again, off-again Covid restrictions it is not known if the Centre will remain open for much longer and with the tenders now processed to start the new centre it now appears that this will be last season the Information Centre will see. Next to come will be Council's continued intent to sell the Batemans Bay Community Centre that will be replaced by a meeting room (hopefully with urn) in the new Centre.

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