Debate erupts over key projects in Busselton

A concept design of the Busselton Entertainment Arts and Cultural Hub. Image supplied.
A concept design of the Busselton Entertainment Arts and Cultural Hub. Image supplied.

A debate has erupted over how to spend $9.5 million that had been set aside for a terminal at the Busselton Margaret River Airport - assuming the money will even be spent in the region.

City of Busselton councillor Sue Riccelli will raise two motions at the council meeting on June 24, 2020 which could see, if supported, a large proportion of the money repurposed to the Busselton Jetty's Australian Underwater Discovery Centre project.

That's if the city gets to retain the state government funding.

Ms Riccelli's second motion could also see the Busselton Entertainment Arts Cultural Hub (BEACH) project budgeted at its original estimate, which according to city officers, risks reducing the success of the development.

Last month the City of Busselton sought support from the state government to repurpose the funds to its BEACH project.

The money was withheld by the state government so it could determine whether Jetstar flights between Melbourne and Busselton were viable after three years before it committed to building a new terminal.

The city advised regional development minister Alannah MacTiernan and transport minister Rita Saffioti that the money would be better used on the BEACH project.

However, no assurances were given from the state government, with Ms MacTiernan stating she would consult other South West local governments to see where it could be used.

The development of a performing arts centre in Busselton has been a key priority project for several years in the city's Strategic Community Plan.

The plan to build the facility on Queen Street has been estimated to cost up to $30.3 million, the original estimate was initially pegged at $21.35 million.

The BEACH project has investment from the federal government and the city, but a shortfall of $17 million means the city would need to borrow the remaining amount.

City officers do not support reducing the cost of the BEACH after identifying a need for the building to be multipurpose so it could also function as a convention facility large enough to attract business events.

In their report, officers stated that reducing the scope of the building would compromise the success of the project with known shortfalls from the outset.

BEACH would have capacity for 1,000 people and a 625-seat auditorium with market research showing it could hold 140 shows each year and up to 295 events.

The centre would attract up to 197,000 visitors each year, of which 35,300 would be from outside the Busselton region.

It is expected the facility would bring $59.1 million in economic benefit to the region, and create 120 construction jobs, along with 20.3 ongoing jobs.

The Busselton Jetty is WA's second most visited tourist attraction outside of Perth drawing in 500,000 tourists from around the world each year.

Once built, the Australian Underwater Discovery Centre will be the largest natural marine observatory in the world and expected to generate $29.54 million in economic benefit to the region along with 155 jobs within three years.