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PROJECT: Melbourne Convention Centre

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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have lobbied for years for a new convention venue, arguing that Melbourne's existing 1500-seat centre is hopelessly outdated.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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Space problems putting the squeeze on

Melbourne is missing out on hosting large international conferences because of its small convention facilities, the Melbourne Convention and Visitors Bureau says.

Melbourne is ranked eighth in Australia for its convention capacity, behind such cities as Brisbane, Cairns, Adelaide, Perth and the Gold Coast.

The State Government will announce plans for a larger convention centre today, but the Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre's 1500-seat theatre will not accommodate the 2500 delegates attending the coming international health conference.

The director of the World Conference on Health Promotion and Health Education, Tom Seddon, said delegates who would not fit into the theatre for the plenary sessions would watch proceedings on a video screen.

"It would be a lot easier if there were a big plenary hall... that is something that Melbourne definitely needs to fix if they want to get this sort of international conference in future," he said.

The bureau said Melbourne had already missed out on 115 conventions with more than 1500 delegates each.

Of these, 54 per cent said the city's capacity constraints were the reason for not choosing Melbourne.

Bureau chief executive Garry Kingshott said Melbourne was bidding for nine international conferences with more than 1500 delegates. The conferences, to be held between 2008 and 2011, would bring the city an estimated $160 million.

The bureau has identified another 76 conferences with more than 1500 delegates that it could bid for in the next five years. These conferences are worth about $823 million.

Mr Kingshott said it was disappointing that Melbourne's lack of convention space excluded it from bidding for more conferences.

Mr Kingshott said there was growing competition from other cities in Australia and Asia to host conferences.
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