In the year it was formed, the Shire of Phillip Island engaged a leading architectural firm, Lyon, Perroand Matheson, to submit a design for a community and arts facility in Cowes. There have been five subsequent designs.
A community reference group for the new project was formed in 2014, the Cowes Activity Plan was presented in 2016 and that year, the Cowes Cultural and Community Centre concept design was exhibited for community comment. The cost of the design was $300,000, which did not include the enormous amount of time provided by council officers, staff and members of the community.
The working group contributed 665 hours over the two years, valued at $29,925. Recurring costs over the last 10 years are estimated to be over $600,000. With the volunteer hours the amount is $630,000.
The tragedy is that there is no result to show for all that work.
The revitalisation of the Cowes Cultural Centre and the Transit Centre was on the agenda of the first meeting of the new council in December, when councillors voted six to three against calling tenders for detailed design for the centre, the forerunner to seeking state and federal government funding for the $17 million project.
Our committee believes there was insufficient time for councillors to be informed about this large, iconic and exciting project. We understand that this is a significant project with a big price tag. However, the costs involved in maintaining the current buildings are increasing.
Currently Cowes does not have the facilities to maximise income from visits from cruise passenger ships, tourists and local events. For example, the Maroondah Symphony Orchestra has to modify its performances because of the inadequacy of the facilities. Co-Opera Australia wishes to perform in Cowes but the performing space available makes this impossible.
The redevelopment of the cultural centre is supported by the many user groups and the business community. It is supported by the Bass Coast Shire Council Plan 2017-2021, the Municipal Health and Well-being Plan, the Phillip Island and San Remo Visitor Economy Strategy 2015-2035 and the Bass Coast Arts and Cultural Plan.
It will create a centre for Cowes, connecting the two ends of the town. It will engage with the local community and its visitors, improve transport linkages, address social disadvantage through additional employment opportunities, enhance educational and life-long learning opportunity and improve disability access. It will recognise the island’s indigenous history. Visitors will stay longer because of more interesting experiences. The vitality of the design will give much-needed new energy to Cowes.
The population is growing and a commitment by the council to this place-making project would indicate to would-be investors and business people that the Cowes township and the shire are confident about the future. The community has waited long enough. We want our long-held dream to become a reality.
PIACC is mindful of the council’s election commitment to be fiscally responsible and not waste ratepayer’s money. But so much money and time has been wasted over many, many years. The council has spent $600,000 and we are still without the much-needed space.
Completing the detailed design for the project will place Bass Coast Shire Council in a strong position to apply for grant funding, when it becomes available. The cost of the detailed design will never be cheaper and the project is an investment into the community and the visitor economy and the future of the island, the shire and its communities.
Following the presentation of the concept plan last year, the community and user groups were invited to comment and make suggestions on the concept plan over two days in a tent in the Town Square.
At the end of these exercises, there was consensus through compromise and reimagining spaces. There was and is a strong feeling: “Let’s just do it”.
Anne Davie is president of the Phillip Island Arts and Cultural Committee Inc. This is an edited version of her presentation to Bass Coast councillors last Wednesday.