THE Commonwealth Games will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give Ballarat a lasting sporting legacy for generations to come, say sports associations across the city.
With the City of Ballarat announcing it is investigating the possible purchase of the eight-hectare John Valves site at the corner of Creswick Road and Norman Street, and the understanding of ongoing negotiations with the Ballarat Agricultural and Pastoral Society over a future sale of the three-hectare Ballarat Showgrounds land, leading sporting bodies say the opportunity is now to build for the future.
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How the entire precinct will come alive for just over a week in 2026 as the best athletes across the Commonwealth come to Ballarat is still to be determined - and importantly costed - with the state government committing $2.6 billion to the game across the state.
But what will be left behind is already causing discussions across the sporting community.
An athletics track adjacent to Mars Stadium will be required to be built which could open the door for a move of Ballarat athletics from Llanberris Athletics Track to the precinct.
Hockey is also keen to find a new home given its site at Prince of Wales Park is unable to expand while basketball is keen to investigate a possible extension of the Ballarat Sports and Entertainment Centre for new indoor courts which could cater for multiple sports.
WestVic Hockey president Grahame Williams is leading the push for hockey to find a new home at the John Valves site.
"It's a chance to start the conversation about exactly what we as a city want the precinct to be," Mr Williams said.
Mr Williams said while he understood immediate expenditure would go towards Commonwealth Games infrastructure and Geelong - as host of hockey in 2026 - would be in-line for the first set of upgrades in that sphere, he said a long-term vision could be a game changer for sport in general.
"Let's not think small, let's look at all the groups in town and say 'right, here's the stages we can go through, this is what we can have in 5-10 years'," he said.
"Once, (and if) the City owns John Valves it'll make a huge difference."
The first piece of infrastructure that needs to be created will be a warm-up athletics track adjacent to the main stadium which is required under IAAF rules.
Two sites - either the Valves site or the showgrounds - look the best position, with some leaning towards the showgrounds as the best option, allowing for other sports be able to potentially use the Valves site.
A number of unofficial ideas have been floated, including Mr Williams' plan to see two hockey pitches and an athletics track at the Valves site.
Another idea sees the athletics track on the showgrounds site with up to two hockey pitches on the Valves site alongside an extended BSEC and adding parking. There is also hope that a train platform could be built to cater for crowds and greater traffic flow.
Basketball Ballarat chief executive Neville Ivey said work was being completed on a masterplan for the entire site.
"There's an advisory committee known as the Ballarat Major Events Precinct Advisory Group which is working with all the stakeholders, the Ag Society, North Ballarat Club, the Lakers, cricket, athletics, basketball and it's being chaired by the mayor and we are working on a masterplan," Mr Ivey said.
"It's being informed around what each stakeholder wants. For us at Basketball Ballarat it's a potential for more courts. We'd love to see more indoor courts, for netball, basketball, volleyball, any multi-sport use.
"Everyone has their vested interests, the Lakers' second oval is quite ordinary, they've got an interest to say they'd like that upgraded.
"There's a lot of conversations that have happened in the past 12 months, but now we've got the Commonwealth Games it's expedited that somewhat, suddenly there's a bit of money in the pot to bring those plans to fruition.
"It's the legacy stuff. Yes, the focus now is realigned to athletics and boxing for us, but if it's well planned, the legacy could be enormous."
Ballarat Regional Athletics Club manager Ashley Anderson recently told The Courier that the Llanberris Reserve was old and lacking basic facilities such as parking, disabled facilities and undercover seating. He said any upgrade to the site or a potential move to a brand new facility would be welcomed.
"We need to focus on the broader picture of the legacy and not just the infrastructure. I think in a perfect world, a potential new facility is a positive," he said.
Other problems which need to be solved is a possible train platform allowing for easy access to Mars Stadium for the up to 30,000 spectators a day, with Burnbank Street or Norman Street seen as options.
Also mooted by leaders is the duplication of Creswick Road outside the precinct as a priority, not just for the ease of access to the sporting precinct but to enhance truck and car safety on an increasingly busy arterial that currently is reduced to single lanes at Howitt Street.
A Department of Transport spokesperson told The Courier that it is currently monitoring the road.
"Regional Roads Victoria will continue to monitor.. Ballarat's road network to assess whether improvements are needed to support the city's growing community," they said.
A potential sporting precinct could follow the model of Casey Fields in Cranbourne. Casey Fields has a number of ovals, an athletics track, tennis and netball courts, a BMX track and even play and village green facilities. All facilities are connected by a landscaped boulevard.
While it sits on a larger space area, it provides a working model Ballarat could use.
Committee for Ballarat chief executive Michael Poulton, who, for transparency, is also WestVic's women's hockey coach said a sporting precinct would do wonders for the city.
"Hockey would certainly have interest in the (John Valves) site should it become available," Mr Poulton said. "From a hockey perspective, the two things we need is change room facilities that allow for more than one team at a time and two pitches with spectator access.
"There will be people better than me that will have understanding on what space is needed, but from hockey's point of view we always struggle through juniors and warm-ups and trying to get Vic League games on, two pitches will make a big difference."
From an overall perspective, Mr Poulton says the opportunities exist to create a precinct that will service generations to come.
"From a big picture perspective, it is a sports and entertainment precinct and I think it would be a fantastic opportunity for a number of sports to be co-located on that side of town," he said. "You've got basketball, footy, cricket, other sports will be co-located there, athletics certainly makes sense with the warm-up track for the Commonwealth Games, the possibilities are endless.
"Four years is a very short time frame and we need to get that done and dusted first and foremost. Boxing and track-and-field are the sports that will have to supported first and also whatever else happens to come our way.
"From a committee perspective, we'd want to see a strong masterplan for the whole precinct knowing that the first money spent will be track-and-field and whatever comes about. If hockey has a 5-10 year period view that would be realistic. We've got an opportunity at both ends, the master planning has to include both."
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