Ballarat is in the midst of a civil war, and I am up to pussy’s bow over it all.
The Civic Hall has been a part of the Ballarat cityscape since 1956. It has been a place of dances, debutante balls, speech nights and campaign launches. Since 2002, the hall has been closed and the Council and community have been debating over the use of the space ever since. Various proposals have included a hotel, and plans for council office space, all of which have failed, either through financial backers pulling out, or overwhelming opposition from the public.
The hall is in a state of disrepair, and in some places is quite unsafe. ABC Local recorded a segment and took photos when a journalist entered the Hall recently with council staff, who for safety reasons, could not permit them to enter the Lower Hall, or the balcony.
The present council were elected, primarily on a platform of ‘doing something about the Civic Hall’. $8 million was allocated in this year’s council budget for this purpose. A decision on what was to happen to the Civic Hall was to be made on September 25.
The Council have published information relating to the Civic Hall on their website, with one of the documents relate to the proposed use for the site.The plan includes an expansion to the multilevel carpark, additional green space, space for development and an expansion of the Ballarat Library occupying the same block.
The raucous nature of the meeting was documented on Twitter and the press, with much of the overflowing public gallery in support of retaining the building. 50 submissions were made by the public to the council, most of whom spoke in favour of retention. People who spoke supporting demolition were met with jeers and boos. The 9 councillors voted in a council meeting 6-3 to demolish the building also to the disfavour of the crowd.
I get that people are strongly passionate about its retention. There is a great deal of nostalgia attached to the hall, and it has played an important part in the memories of Ballarat residents. There is also a concern about the cost of demolition and the subsequent redevelopment which will impact upon ever-increasing rates and the carbon footprint.
I also get that as a venue, it is going to take more than a lick of paint to get it in a useable condition. Extensive refurbishment, improvements to amenities to make the venue more accessible and desirable and to the acoustics are extremely costly. A report commissioned by the Council in 2012 sets the figure from $13.5-$15 million (depending on the type of use of the Hall).The Hall was not operating to its full capacity when it closed and was losing money as a venue for the council. Alternative plans which see more green space and more community space in the form of an extended library are incredibly attractive.
What I find disheartening about this whole situation is the lengths to which people are defending their positions. Rational debate has descended into slanging matches in The Courier online and on Facebook. People are derided for their opinions from the anonymity of a computer and woe betide the person who comments about the situation and people discover that a) the person is not a ‘ratepayer’ or b) the person lives outside of Ballarat.
This debate is bringing out the ugly and dark side of Ballarat and it’s not easy to look at.