SATURDAY marks the beginning of a new era for Merewether's sporting communities.
After more than 90 years of history - and almost five years of planning - the suburb's various sports clubs will have a new state-of-the-art facility to call home following the official opening of the redeveloped Clarke Grandstand at Mitchell Park.
The project, which was championed by the Merewether Carlton Rugby Club and realised in conjunction with City of Newcastle, represents the most significant investment in community infrastructure at the site since the 1970s.
It also represents a benchmark in collaboration and a potential way forward for other local sporting clubs dreaming of their own upgraded facilities.
Mitchell Park (or Townson Oval as it is more commonly known) is a vibrant community asset and the historic heartland for various local sporting associations, including Merewether Carlton Rugby Club, South Newcastle Rugby League Club and Merewether District Cricket Club.
Since its very beginnings, when the park's original pavilion was built by the residents of Merewether themselves in 1927, it has been a symbol of collaboration, of what can be achieved when many hands make light work. It seems only fitting then, that the next page in its history was also written with collaboration at its core.
The redevelopment of the park's facilities, dreamed of and planned for by the members of Merewether Carlton Rugby Club for the past four-and-a-half years, was only made possible as the result of a strong and successful partnership with the City of Newcastle.
The $2 million redevelopment of Mitchell Park's Clarke Grandstand on the western side of the ground included construction of a ground-floor gym and stunning top-floor glass pavilion and bar area known as The Green Room as well as new change rooms, refurbished public amenities and lift access. The pavilion replaces the previous 1930s-built Green Room on the eastern side of the ground.
The changes are designed to provide a contemporary facility that meets modern expectations, offering a more enjoyable and satisfying experience for players, coaches and spectators, as well as anyone else who utilises the site.
The rugby club and its members initiated the concept, developed the design and took it through the planning and approval stage before handing it over to the City of Newcastle, who completed the grandstand's base build at a cost of $1.5 million.
Once the construction work was complete, Merewether Carlton stepped back in to carry out its $500,000 internal fit-out, funded by Club reserves and monies raised by the Merewether Greens Rugby Foundation. In a city with a long list of ageing assets and only so much money to go around, it was an ideal solution that provided beneficial outcomes for both the club and the community. But this is not the first time - and won't be the last time - the City of Newcastle collaborates with local sporting club to achieve a shared goal.
No.2 Sportsground received a much-needed upgrade in 2012-2013 when the Wanderers Rugby Union Club partnered with the city to transform the redundant, round cricket and rugby union field into a versatile, modern facility with a multi-use rectangular design, purpose-built grandstand, community space and ancillary buildings.
This $7 million-plus project also saw the burden of costs and responsibilities shared by both the sporting club and the City, which with additional Federal Government funding allowed the facility to be redeveloped into a regionally significant hub for sporting, cultural and tourism-based activities.
Dixon Park Surf Club is another success story, with the City of Newcastle, NSW Government and Dixon Park Surf Life Saving Club all contributing to the ongoing $750,000 renewal of the club and its public amenities, while future collaborative projects could include the redevelopment of No.1 Sportsground in conjunction with its users.
This weekend, while the official opening of the redeveloped facilities at Mitchell Park will be a cause for celebration for Merewether Carlton Rugby Club, it will also provide a tangible example to others of what can be achieved in partnership.
Sporting and recreational facilities serve as an important focal point for the local community, strengthening social connections and offering a sense of identity and ownership. By working together, we can ensure these vibrant, activated public places continue to serve this function for both local residents and visitors to our great city, now and into the future.
Sporting and recreational facilities serve as an important focal point for the local community.