The entertainment centre is one of those examples of Newcastle infrastructure so woefully out of date that not even the state government can ignore it.
As today’s Newcastle Herald comparison between our “tin shed” and Cairns’ recently announced $176 million convention centre upgrade graphically shows, the city has been shortchanged when it comes to modern sports and entertainment facilities.
To its credit, the government has acknowledged this and will include a new arena in its Hunter Sports and Entertainment Centre Precinct concept plan.
This is a welcome development, especially after last weekend’s National Basketball League trial game at the NEC was cancelled when the court was deemed unsafe.
That embarrassing incident is still under investigation, but, no matter what the cause, it is clear the fiasco would not have happened if Newcastle had an entertainment centre worthy of NSW’s second city.
It is important to remember the state’s plans are only a concept and not a funding commitment. Newcastle must maintain pressure on the government to deliver the money required for a large, state-of-the-art arena, regardless of whether it sells off land at Broadmeadow for redevelopment.
Renew Newcastle founder Marcus Westbury delivered a timely reminder of just how far Newcastle has slipped behind other cities in terms of government investment when he delivered the Margaret Henry Memorial Lecture at City Hall on Wednesday night.
Mr Westbury argued the city’s size, lack of decision-making power, political realities and proximity to Sydney left it uniquely vulnerable to government neglect, no matter which side of politics happened to be in charge. He did not single out particular items of infrastructure in need of renewal, but the entertainment centre would surely be near the top of the list. You could also throw the city’s community sports facilities, transport infrastructure, art gallery, hospital and ocean baths into that mix.
The state government is spending $650 million of the $1.75 billion proceeds of Newcastle’s port privatisation on its inner-city makeover. But the job is by no means finished. Providing the funds to make the stadium precinct plan a reality and complete a proposed new health and research precinct at John Hunter Hospital would go some way to reversing decades of inaction.