State pressed on missing art gallery funding

THE approval of the $21 million Newcastle Art Gallery redevelopment has put renewed pressure on the state government to provide the project’s missing piece of funding.

Newcastle MP Tim Owen said he had been ‘‘pushing very very hard to get a third share’’ of $7million from the state’s coffers, and had written to Treasurer Mike Baird and Arts Minister George Souris about the gallery.

About $14million has been set aside for the redevelopment, including a $7million federal grant, money from Newcastle City Council and community donations.

The council’s project manager, Fiona Leatham, said the council was committed to the project and she was ‘‘confident’’ the NSW government would provide funding.

Failure to secure money from the state government could force the cash-strapped council to dig deeper into its own pockets to keep the federal grant, which Ms Leatham said was contingent on the redevelopment proceeding fully-funded.

Cr Brad Luke, a member of the Joint Regional Planning Panel that approved the development, said yesterday he opposed council spending on the project.

He said the gallery was the lowest priority of surveyed residents among nine projects in line for funding from the proposed 8.6per cent rates increase.

Gallery director Ron Ramsey said the project had extensive community support, and significant private donations would be put towards the redevelopment.

The council recently awarded a detailed design tender for the gallery, which will include increased exhibition space, a studio for an artist-in-residence, new entrance and reception area, a 120-seat theatrette, function space, workshops, a 120-seat cafe, gallery shop and two retail spaces.

The detailed design should be completed in October and construction could begin early next year.

The four-member panel passed the development yesterday, but concerns about parking were raised. Panel member Bob McCotter said the development had a ‘‘net deficiency’’ of 80 parking spaces.

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