20 December 2023

Wagga's arts community rejects Entertainment Centre in favour of Civic Theatre expansion

| Chris Roe
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The Wagga Council proposals: a new 5000-seat entertainment venue and an expansion of the existing Civic Theatre. Photo: Supplied.

With just days left to cast your vote on the favoured proposal for a new public entertainment venue in Wagga, the Riverina arts community has been speaking out to make its preference clear.

Wagga City Council has invited the community to provide feedback on plans for the two unfunded ideas.

Option A involves building a new 5000-seat entertainment venue, while Option B is for an expansion of the existing Civic Theatre.

A third proposal is currently included in Option A: to establish a Wiradjuri Keeping Place and Cultural Centre.

“As one of the leading regional centres in NSW, Wagga Wagga needs facilities which provide both lifestyle and economic benefits for the community at a regional scale,” the overview explains.

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After the 28-day submission period that ends this Friday (22 December), WWCC will present the results to the State and Federal governments in an attempt to secure funding for the preferred project.

WWCC general manager Peter Thompson said the council had received plenty of feedback through the website and in person at information booths around the city, and people were excited about the ideas.

“It’s important that everyone has their say and gives us an idea of whether the community thinks these types of projects are things that we should be looking at,” he said.

“The support is almost overwhelming, to be honest. People are looking at their community and considering bringing these big-ticket items to make Wagga an even better place to live. It’s fantastic!”

artist impression of entertainment venue

Option A includes a large Entertainment Centre overlooking the river. Photo: WWCC.

Option A, the riverside entertainment centre and Wiradjuri Place, is estimated to cost $102.5 million, while Option B, the Civic Theatre expansion, is projected to cost $55.6 million.

Prominent members of the arts community have been vocal in their support for Option B.

“Cost-efficient to manage, the right scale for Wagga’s next phase, and with affordable venues for the community to use,” declared Eastern Riverina Arts’ Tim Kurlowicz, who described Option A as “risky” and suggested that the Wiradjuri Keeping Place should be included in either project.

ERA released a detailed response outlining its case for the more modest proposal.

“Eastern Riverina Arts has consulted a broad range of professionals working in the events, entertainment and conferencing industries – and they have been unanimous in their opposition to this proposal [Option A],” the report concludes.

“Many have expressed a concern that this project will become a ‘white elephant’ – expensive to build, unattractive to the users it purports to service, and prohibitively expensive for the city to maintain and operate.”

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Wagga comedian Dane Simpson also weighed in over the weekend despite the disclaimer that he was “not normally involved in this type of stuff”.

“The City of Wagga Wagga have already decided they are building a stadium, which is ridiculous. I wish we could change their minds,” he wrote on social media and urged the community to back Option B.

“A stadium is so dumb. Why?!? Who would play at it … I reckon it’s gonna cost us money as a community to keep it running for no reason!”

Wagga’s arts community is getting behind Option B and a revamped Civic Theatre. Photo: Supplied.

Former Wagga Civic Theatre manager Carissa Campbell has been one of the most vocal advocates for Option B, posting a series of detailed responses on social media.

“When I was at the Civic Theatre in 2018, we were full. We were absolutely at capacity,” she said.

“We were missing out on all the best-of-the-best shows because we just don’t have a contemporary fit-for-purpose theatre.”

Ms Campbell explained that the proposal for the expanded theatre was prepared after years of careful consultation with the community, entertainment and conference groups, and the music industry.

“We realised that we had to have a venue with a mix of standing and sitting and it’s got to be the right size, because there’s a certain size commercially that can’t go over to meet the commercial market and to suit the Wagga population,” she said.

“Our business case includes three venues in one and so it’s actually cheaper for ratepayers because you’re sharing staff, you’re sharing a box office, you’re sharing bars, you’re sharing ticketing.”

The revamped performance space would cater to a total audience of 800 with 300 seated, and Ms Campbell said this was the industry standard to accommodate both touring bands and smaller, singer-songwriter gigs.

“It’s big enough to be commercially viable for any Australian artist to play, but it’s small enough that we will fill that room. It will feel amazing and accessible for local acts at the same time.”

Mr Thompson encouraged the community to take a close look at both proposals and explained that Option A would be versatile and offered unique opportunities for the broader Riverina.

“The entertainment centre/conference centre/trade show facility can be broken into a number of smaller spaces as well as the one big space, and offers a completely different option for the region,” he said.

“Concerts with up to 5000 people standing. Conferences with 1200 people sitting, with conference dinners being able to be catered from there as well.

“We could host product launches and trade shows and typically, spaces like these are also used for school speech nights and things where you need higher numbers than schools can fit into their halls.”

The current consultation process wraps up on 22 December and people can make a submission via the council’s engagement portal.

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