It’s hard to imagine that 25 years ago Australia had no major convention and exhibition centres.
The Sydney Convention & Exhibition Centre (which opened in 1988) was the first in Australia of the CECs that we know today. The Melbourne centre opened eight years later and most of the other major centres opened over the following decade.
Last Friday an overview of the latest offering was presented at SCEC.
- The Sydney Convention & Exhibition Centre needs more space and there is no way to expand on the present site.
- The Sydney Entertainment Centre (which opened in 1986) is in need of a major refurbishment.
- The O’Neill Sydney and Exhibition Space Review of 2007 identified the opportunities and constraints that govern Sydney’s position in the international and national convention and exhibition industry.
- Essentially the O’Neill review recommended that the current Sydney Entertainment Centre and carpark be demolished to make way for a new centre that would serve both convention and entertainment purposes. In addition an 8,000 square metre exhibition space would go under the new centre.
- The Sydney Showground complex would be upgraded and expanded with a view to moving domestic exhibitions out there and so taking the pressure off SCEC so it can be the focus for international exhibitions.
- The current NSW government committed to implement the O’Neill recommendations prior to the last election.
Friday’s presentation was the first in the consultative process. There was the usual ministerial announcement, a presentation by the architects of preliminary designs and questions from the floor – which included…
Roslyn McLeod (Managing Director of Arinex) pointed out that she had just come from a conference in Melbourne that they manages that required 36 breakout rooms – the proposed centre has 13.
Jim Delahunty (CEO of Exponet) was concerned that there would not be sufficient onsite parking for trucks during bump in/out and this would do nothing to alleviate the current situation at SCEC.
John Lee (CEO Tourism & Transport Forum) Suggested setting up a series of workshops with industry representatives – looks like this will happen.
My view… not definitive, but a few observations.
This is definitely a step in the right direction. It keeps the convention and exhibition facilities close the CBD and accommodation in particular. The alternative would be to build a completely new complex at White Bay or somewhere else.
Trucking access is definitely an issue – the roads around Darling Harbour are narrow and clogged now and even with onsite parking for them they still have to get there.
The speakers talked about how this centre will work with the new precinct at Barangaroo – but unless a rapid transport system is built to connect the two it won’t work. Just try driving (or getting a cab) from Hickson Rd to the Entertainment Centre anytime after 4 pm – it’s quicker to walk. So there needs to be a light rail connection from Barangaroo to the SICEC (where it can connect with the existing line) that is not impeded by existing traffic, probably means making Sussex St a dedicated rail corridor.
Moving domestic exhibitions to Sydney Showground will only work to certain extent. Shows like those for large earthmoving equipment work out there. So do consumer orientated shows like gardening, camping and recreation, etc. But what chance do you think there is of getting RSVP/ABEE out there, or ENTECH, or the motor show, or anything to do with fashion. Even Sexpo has moved back to the city.
One smart concept is to remove the carpark first and build most of the new centre on that site, then demolish the Ent centre to complete the front of the building, thus getting maximum use out of the Ent centre during construction.
However I would suggest that then has a flow on effect to parking and capacity.
Parking – the removal of 1900 car parking spaces is definitely going to cause problems. Not so much for conferences but for when the centre is in entertainment mode.
The existing Entertainment Centre has a capacity of 12,000 pax. The new centre is planned for 12,000. I would have thought going for 15,000 to 20,000 would have made more sense.
Finally – this is seen as not only a way for Sydney to compete with the new facilities in Melbourne but more importantly with those in Singapore, China and India. So I’ll bring out my old hobby horse about Sydney and Melbourne competing when it makes much more sense for a body like Business Events Australia to be pitching for the business for Australia and then assigning the conference to the most appropriate venue. But then that would mean Sydney and Melbourne cooperating, wouldn’t it!
I understand that EEAA, MEA and TTF will all be represented and MEA is planning an all sector meeting to discuss plans and provide feedback.
All the details of the proposal are available via the SICEC website