In September, Warragul Business Group members were taken back stage by Manager Arts Culture and Events, Rob Robson who outlined the amazing history of West Gippsland Arts Centre and a campaign fundraiser to help achieve the original vision for this important regional facility.
Built in 1982, WGAC was designed to provide a regional performing arts centre for the people of Gippsland.
It was also an outcome from a regional development strategy and built around the same time as the Geelong Performing Arts Centre.
The project was inspired by local activists and supported strongly by the Hamer state government.
Rob said the project cost $4.2 million at the time and was jointly funded by Local and State Governments, and received $450,000 in local contributions through community fundraising.
“The original plan was for a 800 plus seat auditorium, with stalls and balcony seating,” explained Rob Robson.
“Budget shortfalls, caused by building delays, resulted in the balcony seating being deleted from the final design reducing the audience capacity to 490.
“However, the high quality and well equipped stage infrastructure was defended from cuts; and even today, WGAC still boasts one of the very best stage facilities in all Victoria.
Rob went on to talk about issues that threaten the ongoing viability and sustainability of this well-loved community facility:
30 plus years old and increasing maintenance costs.
Major accessibility issues.
Declining attendances and usage.
Growing audience/local population and increasing demand (43,000+ by 2030).
Many commercial opportunities – conferences and shows – cannot be taken.
Rob talked about the key things implemented to help ensure WGAC will continue to be vibrant and viable for another 30 years:
Master planning to ascertain what is needed, what is possible and approximate cost.
Independent expert Economic Impact Assessment and Business case to test 1) Do nothing; 2) Simply refurbish what is there; 3) Expand venue capacity to achieve near to the original intended seat number (750).
Only scenario 3 returns a positive cost benefit ratio and gives hope for improved sustainability.
Funding application to State Government successful in providing $4 million.
Baw Baw Shire Council committed $5 million from Long Term Capital Works Budget (including Developer Contribution Fund component).
Now awaiting outcome of application to Federal Government for $4.9m.
The key objectives of the project are to:
Expand venue capacity by putting in the balcony – to meet seating demand and to improve the venue’s ability to attract major conferences and ‘big shows’ with broad appeal and generate revenue to assist venue affordability for the community.
Improve accessibility, including a lift between all levels, improved amenities, better circulation in the foyer and entry to the theatre.
Make the place a visitor destination with Visitor Information capacity, an attractive café, plaza area in front and linkage to Civic Park.
Rob Robson suggested that the Baw Baw business community might engage with the Centre for the short term as donors (tax deductible) and/or in the longer term as partners.
Other ideas included business and ongoing partnership opportunities, and tickets for business use.