Heart costs remain ‘unknown’

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
The Heart venue is set to open next month.
Camera IconThe Heart venue is set to open next month.

Shire of Augusta-Margaret River chiefs have acknowledged they cannot give a true cost for ratepayers to run the new cultural centre yet.

As reported last month, the cost for the Shire to manage the venue this financial year was forecast at $1.151 million, including set-up costs.

Although the council backed Shire management of the Heart centre at a meeting last week, and indicated about $400,000 in staff costs, speaking with the Times this week, the council leadership said the true cost remained unknown.

Deputy Shire president Julia Meldrum said the decision included a “very, very detailed report” coming back to the council in June next year, with a second report to be delivered in 2021.

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At present, proposed Shire staffing for the venue included a centre co-ordinator, a full-time marketing officer, a cleaner, and a professional theatre technician.

Shire chief executive Stephanie Addison-Brown told the Times personnel required would depend on how much the venue was used, driven by ideas for events coming from formation of a new Heart reference group and a competitive $150,000 fund for groups to run events.

“It will be supported by a range of casuals and part-timers that may grow,” she said. “The cost of running the centre may grow as the activation becomes clearer.”

Full costs would not be known until next year at the earliest, but the intention was to keep them down, she said.

“When you are running a new business, then you are monitoring, measuring, judiciously making decisions along the way,” Cr Townshend said.

“And if the intention is to keep costs down and increase the revenue, those are the drivers.”

It was not envisaged the Shire itself would run events, but the centre co-ordinator and marketing officer would engage the business conference market and manage that component of the centre, which remains under a cloud due to concerns around the viability of the business travel market, competition from Busselton, and the effectiveness of local government to attract the commercial sector (see Page 5).

“We’re not going to produce events, but we are going to co-ordinate them,” Ms Addison-Brown said.

“At this point, we hope the community will be in there running all the shows.”

The Margaret River-Busselton Tourism Association this week ruled out any role in the venue.

Ms Addison-Brown said there was a strong chance smaller groups and organisations would welcome holding conferences in Margaret River.

“Every dollar that comes into the Heart goes back into the Heart,” she said. Once realistic costs were known, “we can have a fee structure that allows community access at cost,” she said.

Crs Meldrum and Townshend said the region’s diverse offering argued in its favour, and they rubbished criticism the region had insufficient major hotel accommodation for that market.

“(People) love coming here and we have a lot of add-ons,” Cr Townshend said. “I’m really hoping the community will see it as a great new opportunity to flourish.”

Council leadership was coy on whether they would have supported the $10 million redevelopment if given the choice back when the project was first floated in 2014.

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