Opportunity for the taking

DEAD.

That was the rather brutal assessment made by a city leader when asked about Ballarat’s activity levels during January in years gone by.

While we might use less dramatic terms, the annual migration to the coast by Ballarat people during the summer holidays induces a massive lull in the local economy.

In a weird way, the normal lack of activity during this time of the year might provide a reason why so many residents and businesses were upset, to put it mildly, at the disruption caused to the community this week by road closures associated with the national road cycling championships. 

We’re just not used to having so many people around town in January. 

We’re after answers because we don’t want to accept that it is the small town mentality at the core of opposition to the event.

Compared with a decade ago, January is now a busy time in Ballarat. The creation of new events and entertainment opportunities, coupled with the local, national and international interest generated by the cycling championships, brings the community alive.

As a community, we can’t afford to maintain the sheltered existence that many seemingly advocate by their reluctance to embrace difference, change or the possibilities these big events can bring.

As such, city leaders must more actively engage the community. Ballarat Regional Tourism no longer comes directly under the Ballarat City Council banner and many believe is therefore less accountable to the people of the city. BRT’s prediction that the cycling championships will deliver at least $3.7 million of economic benefit to the city is determined by visitor numbers of up to 15,000. 

The cost paid to be the host – well that’s commercial in confidence, which is understandable, but also frustrating.

In terms of the council, undoubtedly, it has work to do with Cycling Australia to improve this facet before next year.

Retailers and other businesses need to see the championships as an opportunity. It was a surprise to many that businesses in the CBD didn’t stay open later on Thursday night when more than 6000 people were in the CBD.

Possibly the most even synopsis of events of the week were provided by Western Hotel managing director Dan Cronin, who expressed these sentiments on Facebook:

“I completely understand but am still a bit disappointed in the extreme negative feeling towards the cycling in Ballarat by a few.

“It is frustrating when you get held up in traffic, it is frustrating when you get stuck behind a group of cyclists on the road and, even more so, it is really hard when your business and livelihood is impacted by road closures.

“I do remember a time when businesses were worried about the lack of trade in Ballarat during January so congratulations to COB for putting on events in a normally quiet period for our great city. 

“Great comment too by a former colleague about poor traffic management yesterday with a new course and date for the time trial and the impact on Alfredton residents.

“Business owners, get in touch with COB to see how you can be involved and if you plan to go into the city centre today expect delays as per the road signs, radio notifications and newspaper articles over the last few weeks. It is an inconvenience to a lot of people, I get that, but don’t take it out on the cyclists.”

The potential for the city to “own” competitive cycling in the national market is there for the taking by building on local infrastructure and our attitude towards cyclists. 

Our city should embrace these opportunities while they exist.

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