Sunday 4 November 2007

Strategic vision lacking

It's a narrow and ill-thought out proposition that Council is attempting to push ahead with the long planned facility to upgrade our current theatre.
We're being a bit narrow-minded by this approach. Our performing arts in this city should have a wider focus and we're now presented with a time to strategically approach this whole subject.

Council has favoured for some time, an option to demolish the existing Cairns Civic Theatre, that is long overdue for a face lift and makeover, and build a new facility on land opposite the Cairns Convention centre.
However the site chosen, is probably the least desirable site. Council have hardly considered any other options.
We have also recently learn't, of Council's desire to maximise a financial return from this preferred site, and have announced that it will be 'flanked by two or three large skyscrapers'. These are flagged to be office blocks and no doubt residential apartment towers and, as such, will be totally unsuitable to be sited next to a new theatre and our Convention Centre.
I blogged back in September and also had contributions previously about the demise of nightlife in Cairns. I encourage you to read these pieces, and they will serve you well in understanding the current climate that creates a city that is being destroyed through poor strategic planning, especially when it comes to the needs of locals and visitors alike, in terms of providing a sustainable nightlife.
We have already seen the start of new inner-city dwellers demand cessation of noise and other night time disturbances, now that they've decided to live right in the CBD.
Urban planners and city officials around the world don't allow recent city residents to dictate such conditions. The city deserves to have a pulse and a life in the dark hours. It's as if the "night-time economy" rates a poor cousin to the "day time economy" in Cairns.
Visit Sydney, or new York or London, all famous international destinations, as is Cairns, and they have a totally different attitude to embrace a vibrant night time culture.
There has been little public debate and engagement on the subject of arts reform in our city, which is a most important discussion to be held for our growing metropolis.
I'm a big supporter of arts, in all it's make ups. The haphazard structure we've currently got in Cairns is a result of years of spasmodic growth, with little overall planning nor networking amongst the various concerned groups. It looks like city with little strategic arts thinking.
However, it's not often we're presented with an opportunity to start afresh and look at the entire demands and requirements that a city would ideally like to deliver to it's population.
A strategic vision could pull many of the existing groups and disciplines together, that make up the arts fraternity. This approach could deliver a reasonably future-proof solution to this current fragmented situation.
Currently, our arts fraternity comprise Kick Arts and the accompanying Jute theatre, in the old renovated Queensland Transport Offices in Abbott Street.
In Greenslopes Street, the Rhondo Theatre with Cairns Little Theatre, and various other performing arts community arts organisations. This area is also home to Cairns School of Latin dance, in Cominos House. A block over is the Tanks cultural area, that hosts many arts events.
The current Cairns Civic Theatre is situated on a prime site, with access along the main Sheridan Street and Mulgrave / Florence Streets, therefore it is strategically located. There are some land restrictions, but that is not altogether impossible to progress. The adjoining Munro Martin Park is also possible to develop into a substantially upgraded cultural arts centre.
One of the big issues with the current theatre, is a lack of parking. Of such an important project of this nature, some creative solutions could be engaged and
The site preferred by Council is probably the most unworkable site.
I strongly don't believe that the existing Cairns Theatre site has been explored and workshoped to a degree. I'm sure that there are creative ways in which to integrate Munro Martin Park, without removing the entire green space, with underground car parking and road access options in the dividing Florence Street.
This is a big subject for the community, the whole community. We should all have a stake in it's discussion and own the decision as a city.
It would be substantially remiss of the current Council to make such commitments now, especially only four months prior to a major Council election, and one that involves the combining of a new regional structure and more local residents that should be party to such a large and far reaching project.
There are guidelines and rules to disallow such financial substantial commitment under the Local Transition Committee arrangement, as Cairns City Council and Douglas Shire amalgamate early next year.
Regardless, it would seem highly inappropriate for a Council, to commit to such a large scale and long term plan of this nature, in the wave of a local body election campaign.
I can envisage a combined structure that could service various disciplines and serve a multitude of purposes under a large multi-use facility.
This is a project, that could potentially cost millions, and therefore could attract the attention and support of a State and Federal partnership, if presently in a collaborative way.
A public forum and structured referendum on the future of arts facilitate in our city is long overdue, and the time has certainly arrived to engage every resident that wants to have a say in this subject.
This is such an important debate to be had, and should not be left to a Council election campaign to hold out as some sort of carrot.
It's bigger that that. Much bigger.

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