Decision on future of MADE looms, nine options presented

Office space has been touted as an option for the future of the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka site.

City of Ballarat councillors are set vote on nine options for the future of the historic museum.

City officers narrowed down the options from a shortlist of 15 in a feasibility study released last week. 

A decision on the fate of the historic site will be made at the next Ballarat City Council meeting on February 21. 

Ballarat deputy-mayor Daniel Moloney said the decision on the future of the site would depend on how social, economic and financial criteria was valued, and whether financial implications were seen as more important than tourist and cultural outcomes. 

“The Eureka challenge is to achieve all of those values, but it has proved difficult. Ultimately we have to put weight on one area more than the other to come to a decision,” he said. 

The nine options put forward for the future of MADE range from operational and marketing reforms to discontinuing funding and using the space as a library, or leasing the building for commercial education sector or office use. 

One option presented suggests cutting off council funding and changing the museum’s name, while leasing the cafe and using office spaces for City of Ballarat teams.

The feasibility study deemed MADE was not a profitable or commercial business and would require ongoing council funding if it continued to operate. 

“From a purely financial perspective, only the closure of MADE and leasing out of the premises for commercial use offers the opportunity to achieve a small positive financial return in the longer term,” the report read. 

A review into the museum’s operations last year revealed MADE would continue to require around $1 million City of Ballarat funding per annum if paying visitor numbers did not significantly increase.

The 2011 business plan for MADE forecast an annual $254,000 subsidy from the City of Ballarat, but with low visitation numbers, a $1 million investment was needed to keep operations running. 

This is one of our more significant decisions over our four year term.

Councillor Daniel Moloney

Annual visitation has only reached around 60,000, with only half of those paying visitors, well below the forecast 125,320 paying visitors annually. 

Ballarat mayor Samantha McIntosh said council would continue to listen to the views of the Ballarat community until the matter is considered at the council meeting. 

“The process will take into account the needs of the community and the best use of ratepayers money,” she said. 

If the future of the museum was decided from a social perspective, council funding would be stopped and the space would be adapted for library and exhibition services, with the view that ratepayers money should benefit ratepayers. 

A decision made prioritising economic benefits would allow reform and investment of the museum, including a new Eureka Stockade exhibit to drive visitation. This option would require a cash injection of over $5.4 million.

Cr Moloney said deciding the fate of MADE would be one of the council’s most significant decisions over its four year term.

“It’s deciding the future of a major tourist attraction, but it is equally a significant cost to the ratepayer,” he said.

“We would ultimately like to see, at some point, greater assistance through state and federal government funding. We are one of few councils in state to fund a culturally significant museum on an ongoing basis.”

Council officers said the feasibility study outcomes included input from the MADE organisation. 

MADE chief executive officer Rebecca MacFarling’s roadmap for the future operation of MADE was also presented as an option.