Goulburn's performing arts centre deserves financial support | Editorial

Goulburn can breathe a sigh of relief that money for the Base Hospital’s development is finally “in the bank.”

In reality, MP Pru Goward would have been run out of town if the money wasn’t committed. It may be a re-announcement but it is reassuring nonetheless for a much awaited development.

Now attention must turn to the city’s performing arts facility. The now $12.1 million facility surely must qualify for State funding given its importance in a growing region. All the better if it’s in Tuesday’s budget but if not, we have a shot at other opportunities.

The council is applying for several grants. A sound business case will be key to these. The recently completed business case by SGS Economics and Planning is a start but is not the “high level” document the council describes. It needs more work, particularly testing of patronage, event and income assumptions.

The study concludes a benefit cost ratio of 1:2, a ‘net present value’ of $4.4m, 32,000 patrons annually by 2020 and $145,920 yearly in ticket sales in 2018/19, rising to $760,000 thereafter.

The highest income would be derived from ‘professional shows,’ while amateur performances would attract less revenue.

General manager Warwick Bennett pledged at a May public meeting that the facility would be affordable for local users. He said it would make the council “look stupid” to have it any other way. But in the quest to make the centre pay, it may be tempting to lure more profitable performances at the expense of amateur local productions. This will require diplomacy and balance.

As the study notes, promotion and marketing will be key. The council has allocated $400,000 annually for operational costs, including a dedicated manager. Professional organisations told the authors that a performance space in itself was not enough and that “sustained and committed” promotion was just as important. 

It is also notable that other council owned performance spaces, such as Queanbeyan’s Q Theatre require a subsidy. While this is possibly acceptable in its early years, Goulburn Mulwaree will want the venue to eventually support itself.  It’s great to have the flow-on economic benefits for the city but, just like the Blues Festival, it must also be financially sustainable.

The centre is a wonderful project and we hope the State Government sees it that way too in both approval and part funding.