Wollongong is missing out on multi-million dollar sporting and entertainment events because its entertainment centre has been described as not fit for purpose for accessibility, amenity and activation, and turns away scheduled events with over 1,000 participants, secret documents of advice to the NSW Liberals and Nationals Government obtained under Freedom of Information laws, have revealed.
The documents also confirm that the Government’s Sports Ministers have ignored advice that the Wollongong Entertainment Centre attracts Australia-wide visitation and has strong community and stakeholder support for an upgrade.
The documents obtained by Member for Wollongong, Paul Scully, under the state’s General Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA) show:
- Venues NSW wrote to the Acting Minister for Sport, Geoff Lee MP, on 21 February 2020 requesting “appropriate funding” for an Illawarra Sport and Entertainment Precinct (ISEP) and indicating that the “The time to commit to the future of [the project] is now.”
- A meeting brief for the Acting Minister dated 21 February 2020 advised that “Venues NSW has engaged “The Being Agency” to develop a public facing document...for Government consideration and approval to commence a draft concept plan and Business Case for the ISEP.”
- Advice to the Acting Minister in the same briefing that local organisations have “offered funding towards progressing the concept plan process.”
- Advice dated 1 June 2018 to the former Minister for Sport that “The 20-year anniversary of the WIN Entertainment Centre provides a once in a generation opportunity to properly plan an underutilised public asset as a catalyst for the redevelopment and revitalisation of the Waterfront Precinct of Wollongong.”
- Advice to the Acting Minister on 22 January 2020 confirming that “There is great demand to attract a wider range of sporting and entertainment events. The current facility is not fit for purpose for accessibility, amenity and activation, and turns away scheduled events with over 1,000 participants.”
- The same advice tells the Acting Minister, “There is no other Convention/Exhibition/Entertainment Centre between Sydney and the NSW and VIC border, excluding Canberra” and “Visitation heat mapping over the last five years shows the site attracts visitation from across Australia – not just drawing from Southern Sydney and the Illawarra.”
- The NSW Office of Sport advises that “To progress the Masterplan, VNSW is seeking Government approval and supplementary funding of $3.5 million to develop a forward plan…”
- Advice on the 22 January 2020 notes that “…the development of a Masterplan has not progressed beyond initial stakeholder engagement due to lack of funding and approval from the NSW Government.”
Mr Scully said the secret documents confirm that the NSW Liberals and Nationals Government is the only drag on the upgrade of the Wollongong Entertainment Centre getting underway.
“These documents make the case for an upgrade of the now 21-year old WEC facility crystal clear.
“The documents confirm there is widespread stakeholder and community support for the upgrade from Venues NSW, National Basketball League, Destination Wollongong, Illawarra Business Chamber, Wollongong City Council, Regional Development Australia Illawarra and even the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.
“The documents reveal that we are losing multi-million dollar scheduled events with over 1,000 patrons because the facility is tired and not fit for purpose – which has a direct impact on local jobs and businesses.
“At the same time the NSW Liberals and Nationals Government has declined offers of financial assistance from some of the region’s major stakeholders to help fund the $3.5 million business case so further funding could be allocated.
“I simply can’t understand why the NSW Liberals and Nationals Government is so stubbornly pushing against an open door on the need to upgrade the WEC.
“The Premier must now explain why she is so intent on continuing to reject the strong community support the upgrade has, including from the very statutory authority – Venues NSW – which owns, manages and maintains the WEC and is pleading for her to get her chequebook out”, he said.
Mr Scully said the GIPA documents are available to view here.