The Property Council’s December Hunter Lunch was the most eagerly anticipated business networking event of 2015. Premier Baird said, “The debate is no longer one that asks are we going to have change in Newcastle or aren’t we? It is how great we can make it.” The Premier said that hope was evident during the UrbanGrowth NSW community engagement program and in the intellectual contribution made by Maximum Opportunity. According to Premier Baird, significant focus on how to maximise the opportunity for Newcastle was “absolutely the right way to go”.
Achieving the Premier’s vision of Newcastle as Asia-Pacific’s best regional city is what drove the strategic thinking behind Maximum Opportunity. It made the creation of world-class public domain and globally competitive tourism infrastructure the starting points for improving liveability and attracting sustainable density. By developing the city centre as a destination and anchoring it with a landmark attraction, a reputable brand can be built over time which draws new residents and new investment. Maximum Opportunity brings that to life by leveraging the city’s natural advantages and delivering game-changers.
One of those is to create unfettered harbour-side public domain in the East End and enough open space for a new urban icon. Realigning Wharf Road with Scott Street at Queens Wharf establishes a city edge to the harbourfront. Newcastle Station can now be repurposed as an landmark building stepping down to the waterfront. Conceived as home to the National Indigenous Cultural Institute (NICI), the building’s architecture will not only fulfil its function, but also succeed as a sacred site in its own right. The design of NICI will provide an immersive experience which educates and entertains through a combination of art exhibitions, interpretive displays, performance spaces and teaching facilities. The first requirement for any repurposing of Newcastle Station must be to respect the heritage integrity. Beyond that, rewards and incentives should be available for thoughtful, creative design. Newcastle Station can become our Sydney Opera House, our MONA, or our Guggenheim Museum. It can be a new focal point for the city and a beacon to tourists, students and locals alike. It is made more urgent with Newcastle Airport set to become a secondary gateway to Australia from the Asia-Pacific region and China in particular. Without a globally competitive attraction to draw international tourists to the city, job-creating opportunities will leak from the Hunter. Time-poor visitors entering Australia through Newcastle Airport will just transfer to other destinations.
If the city fails at this basic level of destination management, while the airport ramps up international arrivals, billions in valuable export dollars will be lost to the regional economy. As a city, we still have every right to feel bullish and confident about the future. As a community, we still have every need to keep our collective sights set high.
Andrew Fletcher is the Property Council of Australia’s NSW regional director and former CEO of Hunter Tourism