Saturday, 10 September 2011

Cairns Regional Council to cut cost of entertainment precinct by $90m

Gavin King
Saturday, September 10, 2011
© The Cairns Post

Grand plan: This impression of an "architectural rainforest"
is one of the favoured concept designs for the entertainment precinct

The Cairns Entertainment Precinct will be scaled back to $150 million and the proposed museum scrapped to minimise the impact on ratepayers and help sell the project to the State Government.

In an extraordinary turnaround from the original $240 million scope of the project, the council is backing a cheaper option to allay concerns about the cost.The scaled back version of the precinct will limit the impact on Cairns Regional Council to about $30 million.

The exact cost to the council will be dependent on the sale of parcels of council-owned land, such as the civic centre site, and contributions from existing budget reserves which it is hoped will raise about $25 million. With $40 million from the Federal Government ready to be spent, the project still hinges on financial support from the State Government, which will be asked to split the remaining $110 million in costs.

Despite lingering concerns among some councillors and sections of the community about the waterfront location, Mayor Val Schier believes the scaled-back project could be completed by the end of 2014.

The final proposal, set to be presented to the State Government budget committee in December, includes:
  • 1100-seat performing arts centre, built to cope with the risk of storm surges. 
  • footbridge across Wharf St between the precinct site to the Cairns Convention Centre  onsite car park. 
  • landscaping and public space to link the Cairns Cruise Liner Terminal with the performing arts centre.
  • Stage 1 refurbishment of White’s Shed.

Elements set to be left out in the first stage will be the museum at White’s Shed, the second theatre, rehearsal space and some areas of public space. Cr Schier conceded that large sections of the community were opposed to the full-scale $240 million project, with the reduced cost significantly lowering the impost on ratepayers.

The reduced cost also factors in the harsh reality of the economic climate and the prevailing mood of fiscal conservatism of both the State and Federal governments. "The $240 million figure made people anxious and people were fearful of rates going up because of the project," Cr Schier said.

"We’ve had independent experts look at our financial situation and there is no doubt this council will be able to afford borrowings of around $30 million to fund our element of this project.

"We’ll get something that the community can be proud of, like the Lagoon and the botanic gardens for example. "We’ve master-planned the whole area so that in the future certain elements can be staged when funding comes available."
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