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City council looks to government for aquatic centre revamp

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The state and federal governments and metropolitan councils will be asked to chip in funding to redevelop the North Adelaide Aquatic Centre to help stimulate the economy in the wake of COVID-19.

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It follows a decision by the Adelaide Football Club earlier this month to withdraw its controversial bid to demolish the 50-year-old Aquatic Centre in the park lands to build a new club headquarters with adjoining public sports facilities.

The Crows said the “extremely challenging environment” created by the coronavirus pandemic meant the club was unable to follow through with its $65 million bid.

During last night’s Adelaide City Council meeting, councillors unanimously voted to ask staff to provide recommendations about “possible projects for economic recovery stimulus after the COVID-19 pandemic” at the Park 2 site.

They also resolved to seek funding assistance from the state and federal governments and surrounding councils “whose residents and ratepayers make up a significant proportion of the centre’s users”.

You might well argue that this is a facility of regional or state significance

The decision was reached after former Lord Mayor Jane Lomax-Smith gave a deputation to elected members beseeching them to “ask for stimulus funding” from other governments “to deal with some of the maintenance backlog” at the site, rather than to seek a single third-party organisation to fund the project.

“As the council is actually the custodian of a real tranche of assets for the entire state, allowing one organisation… to have priority access is really a difficult position to put oneself in,” she said.

“I really think it would be better to not have preferential access for individual organisations and for the council to run the organisation as a clean, untied organisation without ties to any groups.  

“There’s a very good argument to be made for saying that this is a state responsibility.”

Lomax-Smith said the aquatic centre serviced a “remarkably large” portion of metropolitan Adelaide, with only eight per cent of the approximate 715,000 users each year being city council ratepayers.

“You might well argue that this is a facility of regional or state significance,” she said.

“This is not just a matter of convincing the government that this is important for health and fitness, or rec and sport, but it’s a facility that’s really, really important for schools and school usage, it’s important for mental health, and it’s also important for general health.

“I don’t think there’s a better time to ask for stimulus funding to deal with some of the maintenance backlog on this site.”

A report presented to the council last year said the aquatic centre was heading towards “failure zone” and city ratepayers could be forced to cough up $21 million to fix it in the short and long-term.

“The customer experience is not going to change in any substantial way by investing back into the asset, which is at a challenging point in time,” the report stated.

“We are starting to talk about big dollars, big footprints, really significant commitments.”

According to results from a council-led public consultation on the future of the aquatic centre – noted by councillors last night – the pool is a “much-loved facility” that delivers benefits “to the broader metropolitan community”.

“Notwithstanding the relatively low usage by ratepayers, it is clear that the wider community believes strongly that it is a responsibility of Council to continue to provide an aquatics and recreational facility for ratepayers (albeit with Federal and State Government contributions) and visitors to the city to use,” said a report summarising the findings.

There is a lot of talk about the recovery and where the Government would like to focus some stimulus in the economy and this is a great way forward

Deputy Lord Mayor Alexander Hyde told last night’s meeting that the council should be “pitching” the redevelopment as “an economic recovery stimulus post-pandemic” to the state and federal governments, and other councils.

“What this council wants is a series of options that we can very easily and readily take to the state and federal governments to say this is a serious project and we’d like your significant support in getting it done because we are not in a position to do it ourselves,” he said.

North ward councillor Mary Couros said she didn’t want the aquatic centre development to be “lost” due to council’s current strained financial position.

“There is a lot of talk about the recovery and where the government would like to focus some stimulus in the economy and this is a great way forward,” she said.

But her fellow ward councillor Phil Martin warned some members of the public could interpret the proposal to mean the council would close the aquatic centre.

“I’m disappointed, but I will support it and hope that the administration is prepared to look at the renovation or replacement and doesn’t report to council a proposal to close it under any circumstances,” he said.

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