The Victorian Government announced last Monday that Athletics Victoria would be moved from its current base at Olympic Park to a redeveloped Lakeside Stadium. The work needed to accommodate the move, which would include the reconfiguration of the venue to incorporate a running track, would reportedly begin later this year at a cost of $50 million. The redeveloped stadium would have a capacity of 10,000, with seating for 5,000, though no plans were released with the announcement.
Lakeside Stadium is currently the home of former National Soccer League side South Melbourne FC since its own enforced move from its former Middle Park base in the mid 1990s. The club, which still has several years remaining on its lease of Lakeside, would remain as a tenant. Currently the venue also hosts finals matches for the Victorian Premier League, as well as training sessions for the Socceroos and overseas sides while visiting Melbourne.
Talks between the parties have been in operation for the past two years. The announcement by the Minister for Sport James Merlino has seemingly ended the constant speculation over the future of Olympic Park, as well as the future of Lakeside itself. The former will almost certainly end up as a training venue for the Collingwood and Melbourne Football Clubs.
In a statement on its official site, South Melbourne said it was “pleased that the Victorian Government has recognised the area as a major sporting precinct”, and emphasised its nearly 50 year association with the Albert Park area. For their part, Athletics Victoria and Athletics Australia were caught out by the announcement, declining to comment on the day announcement was made, and released a joint press release on Tuesday. Many in the athletics community have been angered by the moves to oust them from their base of over 50 years, especially in the perceived conflict of interest of Eddie McGuire, who is both president of Collingwood and on the board of Athletics Australia
The redevelopment could be a major boon for South Melbourne FC, with the right deal possibly securing their future for many years to come. The possible benefits could include a clean slate in terms of the catering and naming rights contracts which currently exist at the venue, additional training grounds in the area, upgrades to its own facilities, as well a new lease which could see the club secure its home at Lakeside for as much as 40 years.
While many in the local athletics community are angry at the enforced move from their traditional home, many South Melbourne fans view this as a terrific opportunity to cement the club’s future, despite the increased distance from the playing field that would ensue. South supporter and volunteer John Kyrou said he’d be disappointed at having the state’s premium soccer facility altered in such a fashion, but ultimately the club’s future viability was a more important issue.
“If having a track in the way is the sacrifice we have to make in order to ensure that Hellas will be around for many years to come, then so be it. Many of our supporters have been to Olympic Park many times to watch South matches and it hasn't been that bad. We would eventually get used to it.”
“I don't like the fact that our ground - one of the very few purpose-built football venues in the state - will have a running track around it. However in saying that, I believe that if the South board can play their cards right in negotiations with the relevant parties and do things the right way then this proposal has the potential to land the club an enormous amount of continual income that will set us up for a long long time.”
The announcement also failed to shed any light on the future of the old grandstand, the last remaining element of the former Lake Oval, which has fallen into serious disrepair. Sources have hinted however that it has been slated for demolition. Previous attempts to convert it into the Melbourne base for the Sydney Swans, incorporating among other things a museum, never came to fruition.