Last night various State Government departments hosted a public information session at Parks Victoria headquarters in Albert Park. This was to provide the public with its first proper chance to review the first draft plans of the stadium reconstruction as well as the effects of the entire project on the local open space footprint.
There were people from the state's sport and recreation department, major projects and Parks Victoria. The meeting, which went for two hours, was sparsely attended. All up two South supporters turned up - myself included - one representative from the local tennis club, and at best half a dozen locals, mostly elderly, of various levels of crankiness.
There were several new images of the actual plans, rather than just the artists impression stuff we've been seeing so far. Some of these can be seen on this page. What they show is the plans not just for the stadium itself but for the synthetic pitches and pavilion down Middle Park way. Be aware that as this is a first draft and mostly for public consultancy purposes, the actual finished product may well differ.
There was a decent amount of information, and an apparent willingness to inform the public about what was going on. It will be on again this Saturday from 2-4 at Parks Victoria HQ, which is not too far from BJS. It's certainly worth the effort, and you can pop over to watch the South women play their elimination final which starts at 3. For those who can't make it, the state government has provided some of the information online, as well as an online form to fill out with feedback. Those who submit feedback will get a copy of the independent report when it is complete.
I can't stress enough the importance of getting as much reasonable South Melbourne Hellas supporter feedback to these people. Not that I believe that local residents unhappy with the redevelopment and restructure of their local space will get their way; but rather to start building a culture of South supporters becoming active players in their own club's future. Having spent the better part of two hours there though, I'm happy to provide a general outline of the questions I asked and the answers they provided. Why the club has not been proactive in putting this info up on our website I do not know.
Firstly in regards to the new pitches we've been hearing about down Middle Park way. Four of these will be grouped together, and will be synthetic. Two of these will be grass pitches. The latter will be shared with touch rugby which currently also makes use of the planned area. The site of the new pavilion will be the derelict RSL building, which will be knocked down.
Somewhat closer to home. Parking space will not be increased, but rather the space there will re-designed or redistributed to be more efficient, or words to that effect. There will be some sort of walking track around the venue as well, and more trees, the thinking behind that being an increase of open or green space.
The 1926 Stand will be refurbished with all the facilities that the Victorian Institute of Sport will need. There will likely be some decorative/architectural work to enhance its heritage aspects, but it will not be refitted in order to host stadium seating. The rationale for that was that the line of sight was not suitable for either soccer or athletics. The Sydney Swans will have no place in there. Neither will South have any access to the facilities inside.
Now to the stadium itself. Apart from the track, and the new Northern Stand, there will be a new Athletics Victoria building built adjacent to our social club, in the space currently accessed via the Jimmy Armstrong Gate. There will also seemingly be refurbishment of the changeroom areas underneath our stand as part of this work.
Our social clubs will remain ours, and under the same or similar terms apparently as exist now. This means that any prospective plans for sub-leasing out the social club space to outside groups such as commercial operations would have to go through the same same process. The government agency will take over from us the upper level where the reception centre currently is.
The stadium itself, apart from the running track and new stand, will also have all the other necessary athletic improvements added, such long jump pits etc. It will also receive new lighting and a new broadcast area. And there will also be a new scoreboard with video playback ability. The areas that appear in green on the turn will likely be concrete terracing, and not grass as may be implied from the diagrams. The estimated capacity will be about 8-9k, with about 5k of that seating - though that is a rough estimate at this stage.
With regards to tenancy, usage rights and leases. Lakeside will come under a new trust, while the new Middle Park pitches will remain under the auspices of Parks Victoria. No details about new lease terms were revealed, as these are believed to be still under negotiation and would be confidential anyway. There will be three, what the government calls, 'priority tenants'. These will be South, Athletics Victoria and the VIS. Usage rights will depend on the time of year. The department's representatives said they estimated about 70 athletics carnivals of various types would be held there every year. We would still be able to train on Lakeside's surface. There is an emphasis on opening the space back up to the public, allowing local groups to hire out the venue. The naming rights issue is also undecided. The new trust will take over the stadium costs and maintenance that do not fall under the control of the individual priority tenants.
While all this dependent on planning and administrative processes, the work on the Middle Park aspect could begin by the end of the year. The work on Lakeside itself will most likely begin after next year's Grand Prix, and take up 18 months, with the new track and pitch being done within 8-9 months. The tender for the stadium work has not released yet. On paper it all looks pretty good. The obvious plan form a South point of view is to create a financially sustainable club model, while returning it's local involvement and presence to a pre-BJS era, when we had more fields and local participants. I'm optimistic, but of course caution must be exercised.