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PROJECT: Melbourne Convention Centre

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http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/04/18/1082226636118.html

New convention centre, bridge for city's west
By Royce Millar
City Reporter
April 19, 2004


A new footbridge over the Yarra linking Southbank and Docklands will be part of a $330 million convention precinct the State Government is expected to announce in its April statement tomorrow.

The precinct's centrepiece will be a 5000-seat convention centre, or plenary hall, earmarked for the former Mazda site next to the Exhibition Centre, widely known as Jeff's Shed.

Business groups have lobbied for years for a new convention venue, arguing that Melbourne's existing 1500-seat centre is hopelessly outdated.

The State Government has been tight-lipped about details of the April statement and has refused to confirm whether the convention centre project would be included.

Government sources said they expected the project to be a public-private partnership, with a private group building the centre and leasing it to the government.

The managers of the existing exhibition centre - a government-appointed trust - are likely to run the new centre.

But the project will hinge on support from the Melbourne City Council, which will be under intense pressure tomorrow to contribute $43 million, including about $15 million for the bridge.

Yesterday's Government announcement that it would return control of Docklands to the council was clearly timed to encourage the council to support the convention centre.

Yesterday a town hall source said the council had demanded it get Docklands back in return for a contribution to the convention centre.

A private town hall briefing today will be the first formal council discussion on the project. A special council meeting to vote on the contribution has been hastily called for tomorrow to coincide with the April statement.

Lord Mayor John So strongly supports the new centre. He will have the numbers to approve a council contribution.

But the council is split, with as many as four of the nine councillors possibly opposed to council involvement.

Finance committee chairman and former Labor Party member Kevin Chamberlin said yesterday the council administration had confirmed that a large contribution would result in service cuts, a rate rise, or both.

If the convention centre was to be a public-private partnership the council should not contribute, he said.

The Committee for Melbourne called on the council to back the project.

"People come to these conventions with millions of disposable dollars and this has a remarkable knock-on effect for business in the city," executive director Janine Kirk said.

State MPs and councillors have questioned whether Melbourne needs a new centre, when existing venues such as the Docklands football stadium can seat 5000.

But the chief executive of the existing Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre, Leigh Harry, said that to compete for international conventions, Melbourne needed a centre with a large plenary hall, a large exhibition space, and plenty of smaller meeting rooms.

He said no existing Melbourne venue provided all three.

Mr Harry said among world cities Melbourne had slipped from fourth to 25th in the number of international conventions hosted.

He said that Melbourne's lack of convention capacity made it ineligible for 320 major international conventions.
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More news in today's Age

Business to get a $1bn boost

By Darren Gray, Royce Millar
April 20, 2004
More than $1 billion of initiatives to boost Victoria's economy will be among key measures in a major economic plan to be released today by the State Government.


They include Government funding for a 5000-seat convention centre, support for the controversial Port Phillip Bay shipping channel deepening project and cuts to business red tape.


Cuts to WorkCover premiums of up to $200 million a year will also feature in the statement, to be released by Premier Steve Bracks. A 5000-seat convention centre to be built on the south bank of the Yarra, next to the Exhibition Centre, is one key project. It will cost about $370 million and be built with a mix of Government, private sector and Melbourne City Council money.


The economic blueprint will also include a commitment to accelerate the controversial channel deepening project. It is expected to cost about $500 million, but it remains unclear how it will be paid for.


Other projects to improve road and rail services in the port area are likely to be announced. Other measures include:

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A $2.5 million State Government contribution to establish a new freight and logistics centre in Melbourne.



A $5 million commitment to move the wholesale fruit and vegetable market from its Footscray site, possibly to Dandenong South or Werribee.



An $11 million program to boost Victorian exports.



Plans to streamline planning, including improvements to local council procedures flagged by Planning Minister Mary Delahunty last year.



A new priority development zone to help start housing development in activity centres designated in the Government's 30-year planning blueprint, Melbourne 2030.



Treasurer John Brumby yesterday said the Government would not increase debt or taxes to pay for the proposals. "This is about giving business a bit of a hand along, so that they can generate the jobs that Victorians want to see in our state," he said.


The economic statement comes in response to concern that Victoria's economy has slowed.


Economics forecaster Access Economics has predicted the state's economic growth will trail the nation this year, while the value of Victorian merchandise exports slumped by $3.8 billion last year.


"There will be a range of areas where we cut costs, cut regulation, streamline regulation, and there'll be a range of new initiatives in terms of public sector infrastructure," Mr Brumby said.


The Australian Industry Group's Victorian director, Timothy Piper, called the statement a positive step, but he urged payroll tax relief for exporters.


Opposition Leader Robert Doyle said there would be little new or exciting in the statement.


"I fear it's just another media stunt, more words not action," he said.


Melbourne City Council will vote today on whether to contribute $43 million for infrastructure around the proposed convention centre, including a $15 million footbridge across the Yarra.
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