The future of UTAS Stadium has been imagined as the City of Launceston council proposes draft plans to transform the space through a $208 million project.
Its UTAS Stadium Draft Future Direction Plan looks at the stadium's future to transform it to a year-round venue, meet growing demands and provide more indoor sporting facilities in the region.
It proposes to do this via a new entrance, retractable seating to configure a rectangular stadium to accommodate more sporting codes and through an attached 5000 capacity sporting and entertainment facility.
Council's chief executive officer Michael Stretton said the draft plan was developed to analyse the challenges, risks and opportunities that exist for the stadium and to enable it to continue acting as a major social and economic driver.
The draft plans will go before the council at its meeting next Thursday for endorsement.
Proposed UTAS Stadium upgrades
The proposed redevelopment of the stadium will cost an estimated $109 million to increase the stadium's seating to 24,112.
It proposes redeveloping the eastern and northern stand to include a retractable lower level to create a rectangular field if needed and redeveloping the southern stand to link to the sport and entertainment facility.
It will also feature high-performance training, recovery, admin, education and research facilities to support athletes, with a primary focus on AFL. Alongside commercial opportunities to activate the area, such as health businesses, cafes and shops.
New indoor entertainment and sporting facility
A $99 million facility is proposed for the Old Bike Track site by the southern end of the stadium on Invermay Road.
It will feature three indoor courts - capable of hosting a range of sports including basketball, futsal and netball - and indoor training and recovery spaces.
Alongside a show court made possible by retractable seating to accommodate up to 5000 people for concerts, exhibitions/conferences and higher level basketball matches, netball and other sporting events.
It also could co-host local, regional, state and national sporting meets with the nearby Elphin Sports Centre.
Why has the council put the plans forward?
Launceston has not developed a new indoor sporting complex in more than 35 years.
The Northern Tasmanian Sporting Facilities Study in 2018 found there was a need to increase capacity of the region's indoor stadiums. With the existing three - Elphin, Silverdome and YMCA - not capable of meeting demand.
An additional nine courts were found to be needed in Launceston and up to four courts will be included in the proposed Northern Suburbs Recreation Hub in Mowbray, but an additional five were needed.
The draft plan propose three more at the Old Bike Track site.
Mr Stretton said since the last indoor sporting complex was built in 1985, the demand for facilities had continued to increase.
"It is clear that Launceston needs to develop a new facility or facilities to address the identified shortfall in the indoor capacity of our region's sporting facilities," he said.
"The UTAS Stadium site offers a central location for an additional indoor entertainment and sporting facility to be provided which is connected with the city centre and which is well catered for in terms of services such as car parking, cycling, walkway and footpath access."
Another factor was the costs associated with operating the stadium to the council.
Mr Stretton said it spent about $5.4 million each year, but factoring in other elements it came to an average $2.55 million cost each year.
"After UTAS Stadium revenue is taken into account, the annual net cost to the council to operate UTAS Stadium is $3.6m," he said.
"Additionally, since 2008 there has been $30.62m expended on capital upgrades and maintenance to UTAS Stadium of which the council has contributed $20.38m.
"Substantial future capital investment is required for UTAS Stadium's facilities and assets, which is being driven by factors such as increasing compliance requirements, increasing user expectations as well as community sport and recreation needs."
This is why the council is pushing for the state government to take ownership of the stadium.
Transfer of ownership
A review by KPMG in 2019 for the council investigated the most suitable option for ownership and management of the stadium.
It found the council was not in a position to be able to make significant upgrades and it was a financial burden.
Mr Stretton said the preference was for it to be transferred to the state government through the creation of a trust.
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"Such a transfer would include the stadium itself, Invermay Park, the balance of the Old Bike Track site, all assets associated with the maintenance and operation of the facilities/land as well as the existing employees," he said.
"It has become increasingly clear in recent times that UTAS Stadium is approaching a pivotal period for its future as a number of factors are converging to cause the council to reflect and review its future ownership and governance structures."
A spokesperson from Premier Peter Gutwein's office said the state government had been briefed on the concept but did not answer questions about if it would consider taking ownership.
Who will fund it?
The draft plan is in its preliminary stages and a timeline for the project has not been proposed, as it depends on a number of things.
In order for it to go ahead the state government needs to take ownership of the stadium and funding needs to be secured from both state and federal governments.
As it is in its preliminary stages, community consultation will be carried nearer to the final design process.
After hearing the initial plans, two key stakeholders are backing the project for its benefits to the city and greater Northern region.
Launceston Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer David Peach said it was exactly the facility the city needed to become one of the greatest regional cities in the world.
He said the development showed the confidence the council had as the state emerged from the disruption of 2020.
"[They have the] confidence to take a longer term view and invest in a future that is right now, perhaps over the horizon and possibly a little difficult to see," he said.
"On the business side, this project combined with the Albert Hall redevelopment just across the river opens up Launceston as a multi-venue conference destination, especially when increased accommodation in the precinct comes online.
"The Verge Hotel is up and running, The Fragrance and Boyland Street hotels will follow, and there's compelling evidence to suggest that conference delegates return as holidaymakers with their families."
Visit Tourism Northern Tasmania chief executive officer Chris Griffin echoed the same support for the plans. He said they fully supported the development and applauded the council for championing the initiative.
"Our visitor destination appeals are without question, but equally we need to ensure our event venues are being invested in to sustain our ability to attract this event business, critical to the on-going profitability of our visitor economy," he said.
"By investing in our competitiveness to attract large events, we're able to stimulate trade in our tourism, hospitality and retail sectors."
Mr Griffin said the immediate economic return to the region from events would be immense if the project went ahead.
"In general terms people visiting Tasmania to participate in an event spend approximately $200 per day. Many of these large events attract thousands of people, to be hosted during our cool season, when visitor trade is naturally slower," he said.
"Being able to substantiate a consistent major event calendar across the year, every year, means we are also more likely to see this economic return disperse beyond the city precincts in the form of pre and post event travel by those visiting our region.
"The economic impacts will be worth the investment, especially when viewed as an infrastructure investment allowing us to hosts events for decades to come."
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