MORE than 100 Sunraysia residents, business owners and leaders of the region’s tourism, retail and business sectors gave their ringing endorsement to plans for a $300million convention centre, hotel and casino complex at a public meeting in Mildura this week.
The meeting was called by project proponents Australia Cove Limited to not only provide further information about the project, dubbed The Mildura, but seek feedback from the community.
Under Australia Cove Limited’s plans, the complex would be built on what is now a car park on the corner of Seventh Street and Langtree Avenue and feature a 1000-seat convention centre, 165-room five-star hotel, exhibition centre and boutique casino.
Australia Cove Limited chairman, Bob McIver, told the meeting that once operational, the privately funded project would provide 800 new jobs, representing $30million a year in wages, as well as injecting $1.2billion into the local economy.
Mr McIver said the convention centre alone would bring an estimated $100million a year to Mildura through major events, while the wider project would provide Mildura Rural City Council with an additional $2.1million in rates in its first year.
The project this week gained the overwhelming support of the Mildura Development Corporation, Mildura Tourism, Mildura City Heart and Mildura Airport boards, as well as many in the wider business community, however the inclusion of a casino will be one of the major hurdles for the proponents.
In order for it to be financially viable, the broader project needs a casino, however the Victorian Government has stated in writing that it does not support a second casino licence in Victoria.
And judging by the lack of response from key Victorian Government ministers this week – Premier Daniel Andrews as well as the Treasurer and Ministers for Sport and Gaming were all invited to Wednesday night’s meeting but did not respond nor did they provide apologies – more support is certainly needed.
Mr McIver was quick to address the casino component on Wednesday night, as did several of the other speakers – leaders of the Mildura Development Corporation, Mildura Tourism, Mildura City Heart and Mildura Airport board all addressed the crowd.
Mr McIver stressed the casino was a minor part of the broader facility, taking up 5.75 percent of the overall floor space.
“The reason that it’s included is because we can’t deliver a $300million convention centre in Mildura unless there’s a further attraction that will bring people here to use the complex,” he told people at Wednesday night’s meeting.
He also pointed out that a fixed percentage of revenue from the casino would be injected back into the community through the establishment of the Mildura Foundation.
Mildura Rural City Council’s position on the project was also raised on the night.
Mr McIver said Council’s chief executive officer, Gerard Jose, and Mayor Glenn Milne were presented with a full briefing on the project in April this year, and that every councillor, including the Mayor, were invited to Wednesday night’s meeting.
He said he hadn’t received an apology from any of the councillors.
Councillors Jill Joslyn and Mark Eckel, who attended the meeting on Wednesday, said they hadn’t received the invitations and had received little information on the project.
“I did not receive an invitation to come here this evening,” Cr Eckel told the meeting.
“From a transparency point of view I’ll be investigating that.”
However Cr Eckel picked up on a comment during the meeting by Mildura Tourism chairman, Paul Gibbons, that Council was not supportive of the project.
“That’s not correct. Council have not heard one syllable about this. I only learned about this two days ago,” he said.
“Whether your (Australia Cove Limited) meeting with the mayor was confidential and if that was a statement from you to the mayor and CEO, well they’ve been very co-operative in that being confidential.”
Mr Jose issued a statement in relation to the project this week, saying that Council was always supportive of any developments that have the potential to bring positive economic and social benefits to the community.
“As we would for any other potential business looking to set up in our region, Council has provided data and statistics to the developer for their proposal,” he said.
“At this stage, we haven’t received anything formally in relation to the project and would welcome a full presentation to Council and councillors from the developers. Our process in assessing the proposal will be the same as any other development application and we will adhere to legislative requirements and the associated planning scheme.”
The overwhelming message from all speakers on the night, including Mildura Airport Limited board chairman, Peter O’Donnell, was the need for community support.
“At the moment the State Government has said no, they don’t support this – I haven’t seen the letter, but I’ve had the Mayor read it out to me – but governments change their mind and governments change their viewpoints,” Mr O’Donnell said.
“As a community, if we think we want these types of developments to come to our town, we need to go to the government saying ‘we’re open for business’.
“Maybe there will be a second (casino) licence issued, and when that time comes, we need to be at the front of the line. If we don’t support it and present ourselves to Spring Street, we’re going to miss out.”
One of those to raise concerns about the casino component following this week’s meeting was Anglican Parish of Sunraysia Reverend Canon Dale Barclay.
Reverend Barclay he was “deeply concerned” that several organisations and individuals in the community had given their support for the project before any social impact studies had been completed.
“The information about what the impact on people in Sunraysia would be was just not there,” he said of the meeting.
“It is not unreasonable to expect at least a preliminary social impact study be completed given that a concept building plan had been completed along with a financial viability plan.”
Reverend Barclay also questioned the relevance of the casino’s floor space (5.75 percent) as a measurement of its impact on the wider project.
“The real question is what percentage of the revenue will come from the casino operation?” he said.
“This determines if the casino is the main part of the development or not. Floor space by any means is not an adequate indicator of the importance of the casino in such a project. I asked the question but the proponent was not able to answer.”
At the end of Wednesday night’s meeting, Mr McIver called for a show of hands from those present to indicate their support for the project, with almost all attendees voting in favour of the project moving ahead.