THE AFL is the biggest sporting ticket in the nation.
Ballarat has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become an AFL city.
What we must do as a city is ensure this dream becomes a reality now, before the opportunity passes us by.
Ballarat has much to thank its forebears and visionaries of the past for – those who brought the 1956 Melbourne Olympic rowing regatta to Lake Wendouree.
Imagine Ballarat without world renowned outdoor museum Sovereign Hill or the University of Ballarat.
Look at the countless benefits each of these ventures has brought to generations of Ballarat residents.
Where would Ballarat have been without them?
The centrepiece of making Ballarat a permanent destination for home- and-away AFL matches is the development of a 15,000-capacity boutique stadium.
This project is much more far-reaching though, with an $80 million Ballarat Sport and Entertainment Precinct vision involving 20 general community and sporting organisations on the table.
The community should not be blind-sided into thinking this an an AFL-only project, although the AFL aspect is the driving force that has put this proposal on the table.
The AFL needs a third Victorian venue to cater for home-and-away matches that are not financially viable to be played at the MCG or Etihad Stadium.
It has been widely debated that numerous fixtures do not attract crowds big enough to provide home clubs with a profit.
North Melbourne has had many matches in this category and this has been a driving force behind the Kangaroos nurturing their ties with Ballarat.
North Melbourne has seen this partnership as a vital step towards making Ballarat its second home, ultimately a base for a handful of home matches each year.
Eureka Stadium has already been subject to some $2 million in upgrades to AFL standard – the playing surface and redevelopment of player facilities (in progress at the moment).
These are only small stepping stones, but still significant.
The latest interest from the Western Bulldogs in the possibility of playing some home games in Ballarat as well has also been a fillip.
As big as the AFL is, this is not just about having a state-of-the-art playing arena in Ballarat, as a 22-member consortium formed early last year to push the Ballarat Sport and Entertainment Precinct plan reinforces.
A traditional stadium can only be an element of a multi-purpose facility.
I believe the University of Ballarat has the potential to be the linchpin in getting this project over the line.
I am not suggesting this a new concept, but I believe getting the UB involved has never been more relevant in the pursuit of the project.
The university has made a tremendous contribution to many aspects of life in Ballarat – economic, intellectual, social, sport and so on.
Human movement/sport science is a major flagship of the university and this is the way it needs to stay.
I have it on good authority that facilities vital to the human movement/sport science faculty have just about run their race and are in need of a major capital injection.
What a perfect opportunity for the university and general community to join forces to establish a state-of-the-art campus in the Eureka precinct to service students and the general community, maximising its use.
The Ballarat Sport and Entertainment Precinct vision is much more than an AFL dream.
I cannot emphasise this enough.
Yes, I am a passionate AFL person and have no doubt the benefits it would bring to Ballarat would be enormous across many platforms.
But I am also a passionate Ballarat resident. This vision is all about fulfilling the great potential Ballarat has.
It is already a great city, but I want it to be greater.
To achieve this, it is all about now.
We cannot sit on our hands and let a fantastic opportunity pass us by.
Think long and hard Ballarat. This can be a prize for all. Make this dream come true for future generations.