UPDATE: On Saturday morning, the state government announced the Melbourne Airport Rail Link would be incorporated into the Melbourne Metro Tunnel project, as opposed to the dedicated new tunnel backed by the Committee for Ballarat and other regional organisations.
It's hoped one of the most anticipated and important state budgets in years will provide answers for unfinished projects and Ballarat's future direction.
The budget will be handed down on Tuesday, November 24 - while a lot has already been announced, larger initiatives to help get the state back on course after a horrific year will still be required.
The 2021-22 budget will then be released in approximately May.
In Ballarat, the city's leaders are calling for ongoing support for industries as they rebuild, the completion of upgrades across town, and funding for major infrastructure projects.
The Courier approached the City of Ballarat, Commerce Ballarat, and the Committee for Ballarat for their views on what the city needs in the short term.
A common thread from all three organisations was the need for the Ballarat Link Road, connecting Remembrance Drive and Dyson Drive, to get under way with support from all levels of government, and crucial support to get the visitor economy booming again.
City of Ballarat mayor Daniel Moloney said the new council is getting down to work on its council plan, but locking in funding commitments from the state government would help shape decisionmaking.
He said his priorities are support for industries affected by the coronavirus, the Ballarat Link Road, and $5 million to begin work on a proposed recycling and waste transfer station at the Ballarat West Employment Zone.
"In terms of the general ask, the last council had been working a lot with the state government on a series of different projects we're pretty keen to see as part of the budget," he said.
"The last council's been very clear that the Link Road is one of our major priorities, there are several different stages we'd be keen to work with the state on over a period of time, especially given the considerable growth throughout the west and north of our city - a major transport connection is needed.
"A relatively small dollar ask but important for our future is our recycling and waste transfer station as well, as part of BWEZ - that'll be part of our circular economy works, it'll be part of our push to become a more sustainable city.
"We've already committed $5 million to that, and the hope is we can work with the state government on an additional $5 million there.
"One of the biggest components from the state point of view is the access to the land, because at the moment it's currently Crown land, it does require a land transfer - we've long said where we'd like it to be, it strategically makes sense in the BWEZ area."
Commerce Ballarat chief executive Jodie Gillett echoed Cr Moloney, stating the Link Road will get trucks out of the CBD.
She said the completion of ongoing works to rejuvenate Mair Street needs to be funded - this will include a traffic light at Dawson Street, complementing work on the eastern end as well as money from the federal government's Black Spot program.
"There's been some good work on the street but until it's completed, it's not going to have the full effect, so we really want to see that money given to the city to complete that job," she said.
"We also want to make sure Ballarat gets its share of the tourism dollars available so we can turn around and do some really quick activations in the city to get our share of the market."
The previously announced vouchers for regional Victorian tourism is a good start, she said, but there needed to be a plan in the short term to re-energise the industry.
"There was talk about development of the tourism industry, and the number one thing for us is to make sure it's not managed out of the metropolitan area," she said.
"We've seen with the $10m business mentoring program, that money went and we're hearing it's not having an impact in regional or rural Victoria at all yet - the new regional health project that comes through Small Business Victoria has taken a completely different approach, and they're actually liaising with regional organisations to deliver that.
"We hope they'll do the same with the tourism dollar to make sure that money reaches out as far as possible."
Committee for Ballarat chief executive Michael Poulton said these activations could resemble Geelong's popular Christmas tree lighting, which attracts visitors every year - he suggested using Lake Wendouree.
"Let's think about how we can activate things in a way that brings a benefit to the town," he said.
"If there's a fund there for short term initiatives to attract people through the summer, they're easy wins - the best opportunity for Ballarat, in terms of here and now, is investment in the visitor economy.
"You've got $65 billion every year that used to leave Australia in overseas holidays - they're going to be here now, they're going to be visiting regional Victoria.
"Let's use the lake as the stage itself - how would it be every night through the summer if there was a light show at 9pm that had sculptures on the lake that lit up?"
Further investment in renewable energy is also a priority for the Committee, because of the long-term practical benefits it would bring to Ballarat industries.
"If you reduce the costs of energy for current businesses, that means they spend their money in other way, so you have a town with more disposable economy available to it," he said.
"It's the right thing for the planet and it creates a whole range of new industries and new jobs, and new innovations - Ballarat's ideally placed for that.
"I think if we fail to make the most of that opportunity, we'll see other mid-size cities around the country go ahead of us, and therefore they become more attractive to new businesses."
He said this week's budget will be a "sugar-hit".
"This budget is really about short-term capacity building, let's get some jobs up and going," he said.
"Our bigger interest is around the May state budget, the May federal budget, and then the election cycles for both the state government and federal government in 2021 and 2022."
In terms of infrastructure, Mr Poulton said as well as the Link Road, the state government should announce how the Melbourne Airport Rail Link will connect to the current rail network - a decision that could have big consequences for fast rail to Ballarat.
"The Committee's aware the state government's preference appears to be a solution in Melbourne that incorporates the Melbourne Airport Rail Link with the Melbourne Metro Tunnel, and we're disappointed if that is the outcome - it hasn't been announced yet - but fast trains to Melbourne are only possible if you resolve the bottleneck in Melbourne, on the last 10km of the line," he said.
"In the instance where that doesn't happen, then electrification of the line, quadruplication of the line to Melton is crucial to speed up the direction of trains going to and from Melbourne.
"We think the game-changing projects is not the Western Rail Plan, not the current works on the line, it's not with V/Locity trains, it's with high-speed electric trains, the next generation, that's a 40 minute journey, not even a 58 minute journey.
"That's a long-term project but there's no reason why the state budgets can't be considering those ideas here and now."
Several huge state government projects are approaching completion across the city - the GovHub building could have workers inside as early as April, the train station precinct's hotel and Good Shed is on track for an opening this year, and the massive Ballarat Line Upgrade will be completed in a blitz in January.
Mr Poulton said a good way to both turbocharge infrastructure spending and boost the visitor economy at the same time could be further development at Ballarat's premier tourist attraction.
"Sovereign Hill's master plan is absolutely critical to the city, it's in advanced stages of planning, and you'd like to think there's money in the budget for Sovereign Hill to get to stage two of those works," he said.
"With a redevelopment for its next 50 years - which begins now - has enormous benefit for the entire town and the entire visitor economy that sits around that.
"I think there is capacity for another hero-type attraction in town, not an amusement park, but something consistent with Ballarat, potentially in-line with the National Centre for Photography, it could be more in the digital arts space.
"I think about the Goods Shed at the railway station, it's a fantastic space to be activated for a major tourism attraction, not just retail and commercial space.
"A re-activated Sovereign Hill potentially brings another hero-type attraction to town, it then energises incredible numbers of businesses that site, around that visitor economy.
"Council's doing some significant work in the Traveller Experience Plan, so let's see what comes out of that in terms of the projects that can unfold."
What's in it for us so far?
The state government has already announced several key projects in Ballarat, as well as major initiatives affecting the entire state.
Among other announcements this week, $6.7 million was committed for a National Centre for Photography on Lydiard Street, building on the work from the Ballarat International Foto Biennale - the centre is tipped to bring in more than $75 million to the Ballarat economy over the next 15 years.
The headline announcement of $5.3 billion for social housing over the next four years will result in $80 million of new funding for projects in Ballarat, boosting the construction economy and providing desperately needed homes for the city's most vulnerable.
Several schools have also benefited from funding announcements, including the Ballarat Specialist School, which received $10 million for upgrades and extra maintenance, and another $2 million for Linton Primary School.
To boost tourism to regions hit by fire and pandemic, a voucher system has been announced - Victorians can apply for the $200 vouchers as long as they spend at least $400 on accommodation, attractions or tours in the state's regional areas.
There was also funding to upgrade and maintain tourism infrastructure across the state, $150 million regional tourism, and $58 million for new promotions and advertising.
The state and federal governments jointly announced funding for a mental health and wellness facility in to be built in St Kilda, named after Bungaree legend Danny Frawley, who was a tireless campaigner for mental health until his death in 2019.
Several election promises have already been committed to in Ballarat, including the upgrade of the Base Hospital, lighting around Lake Wendouree and Victoria Park, and upgrades to sporting facilities.
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