Civic Hall is a stark illustration of a Council gone off track. Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the Labor Government admitted after replacing Kevin Rudd as leader and Prime Minister that they had "lost their way". Ballarat City Council has done the same and needs to acknowledge as much and change tack quickly.
What's wrong with the proposal?
Flaws with the proposal are quickly mounting up, but I'll be focusing on five problem areas. So here's the second of five 'C' problems with the Civic Hall demolition and redevelopment proposal:
Culture and heritage
One area in which Council generally seems to be making some positive steps forward is the arts. Not that they have an arts strategy or anything, that expired in 2010 and hasn't been revisited, but as Fiona Morgan reported for The Ballarat Independent, there is a new consultative group formed to develop a strategy around street art. This group can also be consulted on streetscapes more broadly and on issues related to the arts, which are numerous when you think about it.
Certainly worth noting is a project now known as Ballarat Arts Alive that came out of a community forum titled Activating and Protecting our Arts and Cultural Heritage. You can join their discussion on Facebook, with a Wall full of great ideas, inspiration and activites.
One thing artists need without a doubt is space. Space to perform, to be inspired, to work, exhibit, collaborate, produce, share and distribute or commercialise. Supporting community art and artists is the best way to nurture talent and link artists with the wider community.
Council has a role in supporting community arts certainly, but can anyone think of an unused space Council has that might be suitable for artists? Somewhere with a bit of room for performing, for exhibitions and studio space perhaps?
From most accounts Civic Hall certainly had it's flaws as a performance space. Bad acoustics, a cold venue over winter and other complaints have been heard many times. However no report has been done into whether the building is structurally sound, which Heritage Victoria found it to be, and whether there is potential for retrofitting of the site. Acoustics and energy efficient heating and lighting are certainly achievable retrofits that could have a very reasonable price tag, especially when compared to a $40 million demolition and development that commercialises our public space.
It may not exactly be a community arts space, but to see what's possible with a little creativity, take a look at what's been done with the old Heidelberg Town Hall (now The Centre Ivanhoe). You'll notice a remarkable similarity between the two buildings.
It's also worth noting that the Warracknabeal and Horsham Town Halls, again in a similar style to Civic Hall, have recently been saved from demolition.
Part of the proposal on the table, the only option that Council has presented to the community, is to partly fund the development by selling the Phoenix Building and to open up the ground floor of the Town Hall to the community. Anyone who's been inside the Town Hall will be wondering how functional Town Hall is as a community space. Currently largely office space with a few meeting rooms, it isn't a space that lends itself to flexible and diverse community use. Heritage restrictions will also limit the options available to the community. It certainly isn't ideal for community arts, performance or recreational youth space.
Town Hall certainly is a great example of Ballarat's heritage buildings. Civic Hall was declared by Heritage Victoria to have local cultural and heritage value, but not statewide significance. Presumably this is enough for Council and some in the community to say 'knock it down!' However Council represents the local community, the same community that Heritage Victoria says Civic Hall holds significance for.
Importantly, Heritage Victoria has twice recommended that Ballarat City Council consider amendments to the Planning Scheme to incorporate Civic Hall as part of the Heritage Overlay, yet they now propose to demolish it.
Many longer term Ballarat residents have memories attached to Civic Hall, but regardless of your opinion on the current heritage values of the building it should be acknowledged that these are just our current perceptions of its heritage value. That perspective is bound to change over time and the demolition of the hall without consideration for other options could well be a decision that the community, not just Council, lives to regret.
In my previous article, I asked whether Council really thought the community, if asked, would chose to give up their community space for commercial office space. If we asked artists if they would rather retain community space that could be utilised for performance, studio space and other artistic pursuits would they say no, we'd rather commercialise it with office space?
It all sounds a bit ridiculous and as I mentioned in the introduction to my previous article, it makes us wonder who is pushing this proposal. Surely if it doesn't make sense for the community and for artists there must be a good economic argument right? Wrong, but that's another article, see you back here in two days time.