OK, Ballarat, let's have a discussion, what should we do with the soon-to-be-defunct Ballarat Showgrounds site?
Come 2022 or 2023, one of Ballarat's most high-profile locations - on a major Creswick Road intersection - will sit dormant say for the odd visit from the circus, or the weekly Sunday market.
Here is a site just 2km from the centre of the city, which has access to a regular bus route, and has 10 hectares of open space, paved roads and history just waiting to be explored.
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When you look at Ballarat as a whole, we are a festival city, we have in no particular order - in a non-Covid-19 year - the Begonia Festival, Heritage Weekend, Winter Festival, Spring Fest, Rock Ballarat and Frolic Festival just to name a few of the major events we use to attract tourists.
These events all provide the artistic, cultural and fun elements a growing city of over 100,000 people needs, but they are one-offs.
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Wouldn't it be great if we could see something a little bit more permanent, giving everyone an opportunity to get out and enjoy the magic this city has to offer?
Before all the lockdowns happened, I took a trip to Adelaide and for the first time visited the Fringe Festival. The month-long arts and culture showpiece blew me away.
For those who haven't been so fortunate to see the Fringe, it is essentially set across a multitude of parklands featuring stages, performances, markets, kids activities and thousands of artists who make Adelaide their home from the middle of February to the middle of March every year.
The 2020 figures showed that tourism visitation brought $41.6 million into South Australia, there were 154,442 visitor nights in the city from visitors from interstate or overseas, it saw an attendance of 3.5 million people and there were 853,419 tickets sold to ticketed only events.
When I was in Adelaide, I also went on the Adelaide Oval climb, travelled south to the visit some of the most pristine beaches I'd ever come across, shopped in Rundle Mall and spent a day in the Barossa Valley, I would not have done any of that had I not visited the festival.
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While it's unlikely Ballarat could ever be in a position to host a festival of such scale, there are learnings from such an event that this city could use as it looks to attract both tourists and locals alike.
So how's this for an idea. why don't we look to turn the Ballarat Showgrounds site into a night market and artistic centre piece for the city? We've already got the infrastructure in place, the sealed roads, the grasslands, the historic buildings, how about we re-tool some of those and create an arts precinct?
Perhaps you could aim to open the park from Melbourne Cup weekend at the start of November until Begonia Festival weekend in the middle of March every year?
It doesn't have to be open every night either, maybe Friday nights for a night market and special performances, Saturday day and night and Sunday during the day? And potentially open it when Mars Stadium hosts event like AFL football.
For an example, for those who know the showgrounds layout, why not perhaps station some food trucks along Whykes Street up to Scott Street? You could also place a bar between Russell and Grenfell Street.
Along Beggs Avenue, up to Presidents Drive, this is where you have your market stalls where local producers can sell their creations, and along Cairns Drive perhaps a few carnival amusements or some rides for the kids to enjoy.
Then you've got the area at Showgrounds Recreation Reserve, why not put a moat around it and turn it into 'Exhibition Island', where the circus can visit or other in or outdoor events can take place?
Then you've got your historic buildings, what about re-tooling them say in a small comedy club venue or a cabaret venue? The Pastoral Society building might be a great spot for a permanent or semi-permanent exhibitions showcasing Ballarat.
If you open in the warmer months, you won't have any trouble attracting big name performers who will be preparing for upcoming festivals like Fringe and the Melbourne Comedy Festival. How many comedians could easily make the one-hour trip up to Ballarat to perform for a couple of nights to regional audiences and tourists alike?
And if I'm a tourist coming to see a favourite performer, the chances are I'm going to stay a night or two, and visit the other attractions the city has to offer.
While Ballarat's showpiece is undoubtedly it's lake precinct, it is surrounded by homes, whereas the majority of the Showgrounds is surrounded by commerce, industry, takeaway outlets and of course Mars Stadium. White Avenue remains the only adjacent area where homes exist.
The other idea that has been mooted for the site is a sports complex, with the building of the new basketball stadium in Norman Street, it would make sense to focus much of Ballarat's elite sport in the area. Perhaps though the empty corner at Norman Street and Creswick Rd would be a better solution as it could tie into both Mars Stadium and the basketball centre.
All of these ideas remain just that, ideas, but it's food for thought as we move over the next 10 years and decide what type of city we want for the future. Arts and culture have always been a staple of this city, perhaps it's time to make the most of that.
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