Verdict is in: Sydney convention centre to close

SYDNEY After months of speculation, the government of New South Wales (NSW) has decided the fate of the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre (SCEC) amidst the planned redevelopment of the Darling Harbour precinct.

In a statement released yesterday, NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell said that the convention centre would be fully closed for three years from late 2013 to late 2016.

“We spoke to business and industry leaders and there was an overwhelming enthusiasm for Sydney to have world-class convention, exhibition and entertainment facilities as soon as possible.”

New facilities

He explained that a phased closure of the existing venues would have delayed the completion of the Darling Harbour project until 2019. The planned facelift of this major precinct is estimated to cost A$1 billion (US$1.03 billion) and will expand its size to 20 hectares to include Tumbalong Park and the monorail corridor.

The new facilities would include:

–       The largest exhibition space in Australia at 40,000 sqm

–       The biggest meeting room space in Australia at 6,000 sqm, linked to both convention and exhibition areas

–       The biggest Australian convention hall capacity – known as plenary space – able to accommodate more than 10,000 people over four different areas

–       Dedicated banqueting facilities for 2,000 people – almost double the current capacity

–       A red carpet, premium entertainment facility with a capacity of at least 8,000 people for international entertainment events and “mega” conferences

–       State-of-the-art technology throughout, such as wireless connectivity across all facilities

The project was spurred by the urgent need to upgrade events facilities to stem a string of missed opportunities.

“NSW has already lost A$150 million (US$155.16 million) in economic benefits over the four years because current facilities have not been able to accommodate 169 conventions and 12 exhibitions,” O’Farrell said.

Open for business

He pointed out, however, that Sydney’s major events industry “will remain open for business” during the three-year construction period.

“Alternative arrangements are being investigated for events that would have been held at Darling Harbour during construction of the new facilities,” he said, adding that Sydney Olympic Park, Moore Park, Sydney’s hotels, the Australian Technology Park and other venues would have an expanded role in hosting business events during this period.

Business Events Sydney (BESydney) welcomed the decision by the NSW government to fully close the SCEC during the Darling Harbour precinct expansion.

“The decision gives the industry welcome certainty about timelines and the government’s intention to fast track the project,” said Lyn Lewis-Smith, BESydney chief executive.

BESydney will work to ensure the message is out that the city is still open for business events despite the SCEC’s impending closure.

“It’s time to really show how Sydney businesses collaborate and innovate, and how we can accommodate a growing business event sector with agility and enthusiasm. Sydney has a diversity of venue options that can be used as standalone venues, or as part of a combined solutions for large events,” Lewis-Smith said.

Call for more venues

While EEAA (Exhibition and Event Association of Australasia) also welcomed the billion-dollar investment for the Darling Harbour precinct redevelopment, it is concerned that existing facilities in Sydney do not have the capacity to house big events that requires between 15,000 sqm and 30,000 sqm of exhibition space.

"You cannot hold the Boat Show at Moore Park," said EEAA general manager Joyce DiMascio. "We would like the government to explore expanded show ground at Barangaroo, White Bay and other sites as a matter of urgency."

"You cannot shut down Sydney for three years," she added. "We need the government to invest in suitable temporary facilities and make it as high a priority as the longer term plan."

Gigi Onag


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