Arts hub ‘complementary’

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Funding for a conference centre in Busselton shouldn’t compete with the new Margaret River Heart, the Shire says.
Camera IconFunding for a conference centre in Busselton shouldn’t compete with the new Margaret River Heart, the Shire says.

The Shire of Augusta-Margaret River says funding for a major $21 million convention centre in Busselton should not hinder hopes to pick up business trade for its soon-to-open redeveloped cultural centre.

The potential for the new Heart complex to host business conventions was central to debate during council approval for the $10 million project, which opens next month.

At one point, the convention aspect of the redevelopment was excised from the project and relegated to future plans, although the facilities are now included.

The rival Busselton Entertainment, Arts and Culture Hub received $10.35 million from the Federal Government last month, with the City of Busselton adding another $10.65 million to the project. With its own acronym BEACH, the centre is set to include a 600-plus seat auditorium, conferencing facilities, and function and rehearsal rooms.

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While the centre is still in the planning stage, it risks competing against the Margaret River Heart for the prized business travel market.

Shire chief executive Stephanie Addison-Brown said the twin projects were identified as far back as 2012’s Capes Regional Arts and Facilities Needs Assessment report.

“It is the Shire’s view that the centres will each work to complement the other in all outcomes including arts, culture, community, business and trade events,” she told the Times.

During debate last week, Cr Mike Smart strongly disagreed.

The 2012 report described the Busselton project as “a complementary facility” that would help attract major touring companies to the Capes.

The Shire believes the Busselton offering differs from the Heart in some aspects, such as Busselton’s greater focus on digital productions.

As revealed by the Times last month, first-year running costs for the Heart have been forecast at $1.151 million, and the true future cost remains unknown.

Those costs — which could escalate under a Shire-run model, adopted last week — anticipated $65,000 in income from conferences this financial year, but public relations and equipment costs associated with running events were $85,500.

During adoption of the Heart name and marketing brand at a meeting in Cowaramup last year, officers advised certainty was needed because the conference and arts circuit required substantial advance planning.

“Given the Heart will add costs to the Shire’s budget, it is important to find ways to drive revenue for the centre to assist with offsetting these, and to minimise the cost to ratepayers,” Ms Addison-Brown told the Times.

“The capacity to host business events is a requirement of funding for the construction, and each possible model in the governance review (took) this requirement into account.

“The introduction of business tourism (conferences and events) will support local businesses and is one of the major reasons millions of dollars in State funding was given to the project.”

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