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"Last ditch" lifeline for Festival pontoon

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Apologies, financial concessions and a public ultimatum helped the Adelaide Festival’s deputy director extract a lifeline for its controversial River Torrens pontoon from the city council last night.

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The Adelaide Festival asked for permission from the council earlier this month to keep the structure in the River Torrens on a “semi-permanent basis” until 2019.

Deputy executive director Torben Brookman told last night’s council meeting the Festival had revised its negotiating position, and was now willing to take responsibility for curating events on the pontoon throughout the year – if the council allows it to remain in the river.

Brookman said the Festival would also bear the cost of “re-dressing” the unsightly structure and would open the platform to the public when not in use.

He said the Festival had received expressions of interest from the Port Adelaide Football Club to hold pre-game events on the platform, as well as for “commercial activities and artistic endeavours such as (those proposed by) the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, Oz Asia and others” across the year.

When not being used for commercial use, the platform would be made safe and open to the public.

“It would be a platform (on which) to view the river, perhaps a place to eat lunch, to take photographs, to relax; unwind,” he said.

He conceded the Festival Palais venue had been a “huge risk (… which), ultimately, we were not able to completely navigate”.

“We also acknowledge that (the) council bore the brunt of the public criticism around the appearance of the current pontoon structure … on behalf of the Festival I would like to apologise for putting you in this position,” he said.

But he repeated his father’s warning (Rob Brookman is executive director of the Festival) that the council would kill any future for the venue if it forced the Festival to remove it from the river.

Ordering the removal of the structure would have been consistent with the original agreement with the council and a recommendation from the Adelaide Park Lands Authority last week.

But Brookman said the cost of removing it – which the Festival had not fully understood when it launched the venue – would be so high as to prohibit all future events on the platform.

“If you say no … just be aware that it’s never coming back … 47,000 people each year won’t get to enjoy it as an asset,” Brookman warned.

“It’s been built, with public funds, at considerable expense.

“If we have to take it out, we can’t put it back in.”

Festival revellers on the Riverbank Palais during the 2017 Adelaide Festival. Photo: Tony Lewis / Adelaide Festival

Brookman said the Festival was willing to fund the $140,000 to $160,000 cost of improving the aesthetics of the structure – a process he said would take eight to 10 weeks to complete.

Area councillor Natasha Malani told Brookman, during the meeting, that the council was leaning towards refusing the request, and suggested the Festival needed to offer further concessions to convince the council to grant a “last-ditch” lifeline for the venue.

Brookman responded that the Festival would be willing to discuss sharing revenue from commercial operations on the pontoon with the council, and to pay a lease fee for occupying the site.

Ultimately, the Festival was given two weeks to negotiate with city council CEO Mark Goldstone, to settle the terms under which it would be allowed to keep the structure in the river.

The council will reconsider the request on August 8.

Park Lands helipad gets a nod; Vic Square curfew decision delayed

Also last night, the council deferred a decision on whether to introduce a midnight curfew on Victoria Square and approved, in-principle, leasing a piece of the park lands, west of Morphett Street Bridge, for a commercial helipad.

The latter proposal has several hurdles to jump.

It will now be sent out for a second round of consultation – the first round returned 43 responses opposing it and seven endorsing it – on changes to the Community Land Management Plan that regulates the use of Bonython Park that may be required to accommodate the platform.

Meanwhile, the council has yet to select and announce a preferred operator of the helipad. Once a proponent is chosen, that organisation will have to apply to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority for approval.

Once the council receives the results of the new consultation, it will then have to decide whether to present the plan to Planning Minister John Rau, or abandon it.

Rau would, in turn, have the option of approving it (which seems likely – Transport Minister Stephen Mullighan has written to the council expressing support) or rejecting it.

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