Leaders building a case for convention centre funding - In the press

Kate McIlwainIllawarra Mercury 31 August 2016

It will soon become clear exactly how much building a convention and events hub at WIN Entertainment Centre could boost the Illawarra economy, with the city’s leaders moving to bolster their case for government funding.

RDA Illawarra, supported by Wollongong council and Destination Wollongong, has hired top economist and planner Brian Haratsis to do a market assessment on the multi-million dollar entertainment centre upgrade.

RDA chief Debra Murphy said the assessment would test the viability of the long-held plan, which would  would include improvements to the building’s facade, better food and commercial options that open to the street and would allow it to cater to mid-level conferences of between 800 and 1500 people.

“We believe that there is a sufficient market, from what we know but this would give us the evidence and a strong case to go to the government for funding,” Ms Murphy said.

Proponents have previously said about $60 million was needed to transform the building; about $40 million for the upgrade, and $20 million for a multi-storey council car park.

After touring the WEC on Wednesday, Mr Haratsis said he believed it was “highly likely” the building upgrade would prove feasible if costs could be kept around $50 million.

“There is demand in regional NSW for conference and exhibition space,” he said.

He said a conference centre would boost tourism in quieter mid-week periods, and grow business investment in the region by exposing the city to new markets.

Mr Haratsis’s firm, MacroPlan, will produce it’s assessment over the next two months, paving the way for a funding request to be made to the NSW Government.

“To be honest with you, I don’t know why they haven’t funded it yet,” Mr Haratsis said. “It should have been funded years ago.”

MacroPlan previously put together a business case for the conference hub about five years ago, but Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said an update was needed due to the pace of change in the CBD.

“We need to convince the state government to put the money in for this, so we have to make sure we’ve got all the metrics right so they can’t refuse,” he said. “You only have to look around the precinct to see it’s changed dramatically in the past five years.”