Scot MacDonald
Opinion Piece on Hunter Sports and Entertainment precinct
7th Sep 2017

Newcastle Herald

Thursday 7th August

 

Come on Newcastle, step up.

A couple of months ago, NSW Minister for Sports, Stuart Ayres released a concept plan for the Hunter Sports and Entertainment precinct. To date there has been some, but not overwhelming interest in the future of Broadmeadow.

We’ve had the predictable push back from the State MP Tim Crackanthorp. There has been discussion about extending Light Rail out there. Most loudly from the civic leaders who got themselves elected on a platform of retaining heavy rail into the CBD. I have heard of a few ideas for the location of a range of sports in the precinct.

But I am puzzled. Where is the vision?

Newcastle is revitalising itself. The NSW Government has provided much of the catalyst with a stunning new Courthouse; tearing down the Berlin Wall (aka heavy rail dividing the city); and the Light Rail will soon transform the CBD. The University of Newcastle has breathed life into the city with its inspiring New Space building. The private sector now has the confidence with 3050 new inner city dwellings constructed or approved and a total of $2 billion of private investment since the heavy rail line was truncated.

The doomsday scenarios so beloved of a few is not coming to pass.

The old rail corridor will consist of nearly three quarters public space or community use. After a bit of political posturing the civic leaders even look like embracing the State Government's plan for a modest Affordable Housing project.

Developers have not ravaged the old corridor. Heritage is being honoured wherever possible. There are growing pains as with any city that has not seen major change for decades.

Has Newcastle exhausted itself with these transport and revitalisation battles over the past five years? Have the keyboard warriors and political opportunists worn down those with imaginative juices?

I believe the Broadmeadow venues precinct is the next big opportunity and challenge for the city and wider Hunter. We could go down the path of modernising a few buildings; tweaking some sporting assets and looking at transport options.

Or we could think, this is the chance to make our mark on the state and country. It should always be anchored by a great stadium and a number of sporting codes are locked into their positions, but the rest should be up for bold development. And yes that includes private sector involvement (cue outraged letters to the Herald and protests from Tim). I’d like to see some of the Hunter’s Architects and planners exercise their minds and challenge us with designs and ideas that could make this precinct one of the premier sporting, entertainment, commercial and living hubs of the world. A must go to place for domestic and international visitors. A perfect complement to the eastern part of the city.

Why doesn’t the University sponsor a competition for its students to shake the tree to find a vision for all these elements to make the city proud. We need proposals for an Entertainment complex beyond the bog standard flat box eyesore. Will Newcastle take learnings from precincts like Homebush that are great at hosting events, but have struggled to build a community outside of those peak times?

I personally feel a mix of residential options would work best. That is an offering of medium density housing with a component of social and affordable housing. I foresee a need for budget visitor accommodation that will cater for students and their families attending events right up to a 4 star option for those wanting a world standard experience when they are at a sporting or entertainment event.

In my view there needs to be a strong component of commercial activity. It needs the private sector to build on the Government’s contribution and management of the precinct. Private investment will identify and respond to demand for living, commercial, sporting and entertainment  drivers. If the Hunter Sports and Entertainment precinct is planned and developed optimally and with an element of excitement and world class vision, it can be the next significant economic stimulus for Newcastle and the Hunter.

And that brings me to Council elections on Saturday. I am hoping the city will elect people with vision; some propensity to work with State and Federal Governments with less focus on photo opportunities and more on leadership. There’s no doubt that Minister Ayres has a strong vision for Newcastle. He has invited us to shape that vision. We should accept that invitation. Good luck Newcastle. Inspire us with your dreams for Broadmeadow.