"To be locked into a course of action a few weeks out from an election is simply not fair,” David Crisafulli said.
The project has been labeled as Cairns Regional Council's ‘most significant development undertaken’ and will take up approximately 1.5 hectares of the city’s waterfront.
The Wharf Street site has been a controversial selection but remains that most preferred site and has the full support of current land owners, the Cairns Port Authority, despite objections from three Mayoral contenders. Deputy Mayoral Margaret Cochrane; former Cairns property developer Ian Thomas; and former Ports chief and Unity team leader Bob Manning. Thomas wants the project trashed completely, whilst Manning wants a review of the location, saying that this is strategic Port land.
The planned Entertainment Precinct will include a number of public spaces: a proscenium arch theatre seating 1100, public plaza and refurbishment of the historic White’s Shed.
Bob Manning, who is the only Mayoral contender with any chance against Val Schier, says the Queensland Treasury Corporation’s own financial sustainability review released in November 2011 states that Council would have to increase rates by 6% a year to build and operate this facility.
"Cairns Regional Council’s own forecast is for operating losses of $8.5 million a year, which equates to an average of $95 a year that every ratepayer would have to fork out - quite separate from the inevitable annual rises in general rates," Bob Manning says. "The Treasury’s review also noted that Council would also be under great pressure to keep its belt tight for the next 10 years to pay for this project which really means we would be so hamstrung with debt we couldn’t afford to look at any other major infrastructure for a decade."
Tim Moore of Architectural Source says tenders from architectural firms for the $154.6 million project will be accepted until Council closes the application process next week. "Winning architects will be expected to completely modernise Cairns, meaning that aesthetic value and architectural integrity will be key factors in the council’s tender decision," Tim Moore says.
The planned timeline of the works began with the March investigation of White’s Shed, a heritage-listed building on the waterfront. Prior to last week's State Government announcement to halt work until after the election, contractors were to be appointed this month with major works commenced in August. The substructure was planned to be completed by December, roofing December 2013, seating installation November 2014, with opening due in May 2015. However, the State government steps in to pause developments in order to prevent further changes down the line once the new Council is elected.
Bob Manning says that the Treasury review recommends that Council consider alternative strategies to stimulate the economy, especially options that would be less "capital intensive" than the entertainment precinct.
"The Val Schier approach to solving our economic woes would simply lead to them deepening in my opinion," Manning says. "I ask: how will placing this heavy burden – coupled with other rising costs such as electricity and the additional and yet unknown fallout from the carbon tax – help pull Cairns out of the sinking hole it is in? It won’t."
Local Government Minister David Crisafulli says that whoever forms the new council deserves the right to determine the way forward for the project, and to be locked into a course of action a few weeks out from an election is simply not fair.
Tim Moore says that further funding uncertainties are threatening the development and contractor appointment has been delayed.
"With a development of this magnitude, the stakes will always be high for all involved," Tim Moore says. "However, as precinct developments Australia-wide prove to be an economically sound investment, both local and state government are confident that early creases will soon be ironed out."