UNTIL the late 1970s, the Civic Hall was a hive of social activity.
From the time it was built in 1956, debutante balls and dances were held within its walls nearly every weekend.
It was where teary Begonia Queens were crowned and the minds of the future were awarded school speech-night prizes.
But in his 1977-78 annual report, the mayor of the day noted a decline in its use, which he attributed to television and the arrival of cabarets.
In 1979, in a bid to increase the use of the hall, a new kitchen annexe was added to the building.
During the 1980s, the hall was primarily used for concerts and as an exhibition space.
In the 1990s, the hall underwent a $166,000 revamp, but in 1999, it was used only 40 times, less than once a week.
So what went wrong? What caused Ballarat’s main civic centre to close?
According to Ballarat mayor Mark Harris, the answer lies simply in falling attendances.
As more modern function centres, with better acoustics and more flexible floor spaces, popped up across Ballarat, bookings at the Civic Hall began to drop off.
“It was closed down because it wasn’t being used,” Cr Harris said.
In 2000, a report to the council showed the council faced “major budgetary impacts” if the hall was to stay open, including a $1 million overhaul of the facility to bring it up to modern standards.
The hall hosted its last event — a Ballarat Grammar School speech night — in 2002, although the lower hall was used as a bingo centre until 2005.
Several redevelopment proposals have also floundered.
In 1999, the council put the site up for tender for the first time but it was halted due to probity concerns.
Folkestone Limited successfully bid for the site in 2002 but it later walked away, despite Ramada Hotels expressing interest in building a $20 million, twin tower hotel and a 1000 seat convention centre there.
Click below for Fiona Henderson's video report from inside Civic Hall.
The hall’s doors remained closed until 2007 when the Civic Place Group was named the preferred tenderer but probity issues again temporarily halted the project. Civic Place Group’s joint partner Pan Urban then withdrew from the consortium and new Civic Place Group plans were rejected by the council, which eventually canned the project.
Last year, the council voted to knock down the Civic Hall and replace it with $40 million office buildings and a car park. But overwhelming community opposition forced the council to abandon its plans in December last year.
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