From AC/DC and Thin Lizzy’s ‘Jailbreak’ to Johnny Cash’s career-defining Folsom Prison performance, the setting of the gaol has played an important part in giving inspiration to musicians, now it looks like the roles are going to be reversed in the Victorian town of Bendigo.
According to the Bendigo Advertiser, the council are currently overseeing a new planning permit for a $25.8 million redevelopment that will convert the old Bendigo Gaol into a new 1000-capacity performance space and live music venue.
The project, co-managed by the City of Greater Bendigo and Bendigo Senior Secondary College, will feature a 1000-seat, two-tier theatre; complete with a large stage, fly tower, dressing rooms, music, dance and drama studio spaces, general learning areas and a commercial learning kitchen.
The property’s developers and stakeholders welcomed the news of Heritage Victoria’s approval of the redevelopment yesterday, which – according to Bendigo Senior Secondary Colleg principal Dale Pearce – was an important step in moving the project forward.
“The historic Bendigo Gaol is an important local heritage asset and we understand this is the first time a heritage gaol has been adapted and reused in this way,” said Pearce. “We have always been very mindful of the historical importance of this building and we are fully aware of the uniqueness of this project.”
Details of the new arts and music venue first surprised locals when the federal government fast-tracked the redevelopment project and approving $12.3 million in funds towards the budget, also allowing construction to begin before the end of the year. That’s in addition to $11 million in funding from the Victorian state government as well as $3 million from local council.
From a live music perspective, it’s a positive development for the city. Calling Bendigo a dry zone, gig-wise, is a bit of an understatement, while like most regional areas it has its own local live scene and venues, the new development could appeal to larger national acts or even international bands looking for an additional stopover in their touring schedule.Which, in turn would help Bendigo’s economy and culture in the long run.
But unfortunately, the redevelopment has had its detractors to the drastic makeover. Chiefly, former City of Greater Bendigo mayor Daryl McClure, along with his wife, Elaine Chang and one Ted Coleman have all formally objected to the planning permit.
A meeting of the Greater City Of Bendigo last night was looking at approving the plans, but McClure says that an appeal to the Victorian Civil And Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) could prevent the matter from being resolved in time for the proposed construction later this year.
The problem? The federal government’s key $12.3 million kick-in hinges on a ‘six-month shovel-ready’ clause that requires development to begin before the end of the year, namely November. If the VCAT appeal slows down the construction’s start time, then the planning permit would have to apply for an extension to the federal government in order to proceed.
McClure and his detractors objections to the old Bendigo Gaol’s conversion into a new arts hub focussed on technicalities like car parking, costs and the construction’s ecological impact on the nearby Rosalind Park.
“I would have to have a think about (appealing to VCAT),” Mr McClure told the Bendigo Advertiser, “I am very, very concerned about land grabbing on Rosalind Park… Just because the area is not pretty, just because we are driving over it is no reason why forever and a day we should go and turn it into a car park. Land grabbing in Rosalind Park is just wrong.”
The council’s City Futures director San Liacos disagreed however, saying it was crucial that the construction went ahead unopposed in order to guarantee the project’s government funding.
“There is the possibility that we will lose the funding if we are not under construction this year,” said Liacos. Adding that McClure thought it was “worth missing out on the funds” in order to wait for “an appropriate theatre” instead of the existing “half-baked proposal.”
Liacos also saw the benefits of the new Bendgio Gaol project as live music venue, “we can’t get a lot of the mainstream acts to tour through a place like Bendigo,” explained the City futures director told The Age, “because it doesn’t have a sufficiently large theatre to make it efficient and profitable.”
The federal government is also showing their support of the new redevelopment, with Federal Regional Development Minister Simon Crean offering that the transformation of the Bendigo Gaol “into an arts and cultural hub will deliver strong social and economic benefits to the region – that’s why the project was successful in securing regional development funding.”
The new Bendigo Gaol venue would be an obvious boon to the city’s arts and culture, but the economical prospects of offering another live music venue for both local talent as well as an additional regional stopover for touring bands seems a beneficiary to Bendigo.
The council will go into caretaker mode on September 25 – which means they can no longer vote to decide on the project – until council elections on October 27. Assuming the plans go ahead, the state government will manage the tendering and construction phases, which will begin at the end of the year; projected to be completed by mid-2014.