A LONG-STANDING Ballarat football administrator says the Eastern Oval should be the centrepiece of a city bid to become a venue for AFL matches.East Point Football Club vice-president Michael Walsh said yesterday the Eastern Oval had everything going for it _ much more then AUSTAR Arena or the City Oval.North Melbourne's interest in playing practice, pre-season competition and perhaps, ultimately, home-and-away matches in Ballarat has this week sparked a vigorous debate among advocates of the city's three major football grounds.North Ballarat Football Club is leading the charge, having already planned formal talks with Kangaroos chief executive officer Eugene Arocca, Ballarat Mayor Cr Judy Verlin and City of Ballarat CEO Anthony Schinck.North Ballarat sees having regular AFL matches at AUSTAR Arena as a natural progression of the multi-million dollar upgrade of the playing surface.The redevelopment project is in its final stages.The Ballarat Football League is lobbying to have the City Oval upgraded on the basis it would have a broader community appeal and have greater flexibility for programming given AUSTAR Arena's demands to meet the needs of North Ballarat Roosters in the Victorian Football League and North Ballarat Rebels in the TAC Cup.Mr Walsh said above all, the Eastern Oval was "the people's ground"."It has the best playing surface, the best changerooms, a grandstand."It's central _ a short walk from the railway station, close to hospitals and ambulance service in the case of serious injury, close to the inner city ... the crowd's close to the action."He said, adding to what was already in place, there were plans in place for a new scoreboard and landscaping, as the development of the Ballarat Cricket Association's new administrative headquarters.He believes the ground could accommodate up to 20,000 people.While acknowledging the centre wicket area might be an issue, Mr Walsh believes that this could be overcome if well maintained.Mr Walsh cited the "windswept" nature of AUSTAR Arena and the distant location of the City Oval's grandstand from the playing arena as drawbacks in developing those facilities as a home for AFL matches.Speaking bluntly, he said the City of Ballarat could not financially afford to have three major grounds.Mr Walsh said the City Oval would be best sold, primarily for residential development, and the proceeds used to maintain and upgrade other sports grounds in the city.He said the time was right for Ballarat City Council to bring together all stakeholders in the AFL debate to ensure an educated decision was made.Mr Walsh said all efforts must be made to make the right decision for Ballarat."We have to look at the big picture," he said.Mr Walsh said he had already discussed the future development of the Eastern Oval with Cr Verlin and Cr Mark Harris.
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