Fast-tracking the Broadmeadow sports and entertainment precinct will keep the city in a national spotlight and under the gaze of investors from outside the region, Hunter Business Chamber chief Bob Hawes says.
Mr Hawes has called for the 63-hectare site's master plan to be unveiled and for the government to task its regional development arm to bring the project to life.
He says the Hunter and Central Coast Development Corporation is well placed to implement the plan as its Honeysuckle projects are almost finished and its work in Gosford is progressing fast.
"This precinct can be the next big thing after Honeysuckle," he said.
"This makes it a relatively short time frame given the stage Honeysuckle has reached.
"The region is ideally placed to use skills within the HCCDC to deliver on the precinct plans and maintain focus within government so we maximise our chances to attract the necessary government funding to support and facilitate the project.
"We have in Honeysuckle also attracted the gaze of investors from outside the region and this precinct has the potential to keep the city and the region under the gaze on a national stage."
The government released a draft concept plan for the precinct almost three years ago, mooting a new entertainment centre, indoor sports or aquatic facility, multi-use fields, hotel, commercial spaces and housing close to public transport.
Then Sports Minister Stuart Ayres said in July, 2017, it would be "very important" to have a "transparent conversation" in developing a master plan for the site.
But in the years since, there has been no public update on the plans for what is widely considered Newcastle's next urban renewal area.
Venues NSW has produced a bold plan with ambitious proposals but, as revealed by the Newcastle Herald on Thursday, the government has refused to release it. Stakeholders are also prevented from talking about what is in the plan due to confidentiality agreements with the government.
The redevelopment of the precinct, which includes most of the land between Lambton and Griffiths roads and the showground, could draw hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment and deliver outcomes for the sport, business, housing, education and health sectors.
It would be a major jobs driver during construction and create ongoing jobs if commercial elements were realised. It also fits among a category of projects that could support the state's long-term economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.
One source close to the plan says it "ticks all the boxes the government is after".
"The government is crying out for projects of this scale and there it is staring at you," the source said, adding the government would be concerned about managing the expectations of unveiling the plan given the potential variables of bringing all aspects of such a proposal to fruition.
The situation has not been helped by the controversy surrounding stadium upgrades in Sydney and the turnover of sports ministers.
Property Council director Anita Hugo said the precinct had "incredible potential for growth" but there was "a need to understand the commitment from government" before private sector investment could be realised.
"In the context of Newcastle, the precinct and its immediate surrounds offer a best chance for city placed growth," she said.
Geoffrey Rock, chair of the Urban Development Institute of Australia's Hunter chapter, said the redevelopment would also help state the case for an extension to the city's light rail line.
Wickham to John Hunter Hospital via Lambton Road at the precinct's south end was recently identified as the "most suitable" extension in a preliminary investigation.
"With the inner-city urban renewal project well advanced, the development and implementation of the Broadmeadow [plan] is a logical next step for government to consider," he said.
Connectivity with light rail and all this sort of stuff might seem a pipe-dream, but that's what Newcastle deserves and we should all get on board with it.Steve Foteff, Broadmeadow Magic football club
Newcastle lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes said there was "significant policy and stakeholder alignment" required "to see this site thrive".
"City of Newcastle warmly welcomed the government's identification of Broadmeadow as the future home of a nationally significant sport and entertainment precinct, and as a location to provide quality housing that is complimentary to the functions of the future site," she said.
"Delivering the [precinct plan] now presents a significant opportunity to reinforce the strong business and development confidence shown for our city's sustainable and inclusive future."
The Herald sent questions to Sports Minister Geoff Lee asking if the government was still committed to the precinct and why the master plan had not been unveiled, but he did not respond.
However, both these projects were awarded $10 million grants before the master plan had been developed.
"As construction progresses on these ... the NSW government will continue planning for the 11 catalyst areas across Greater Newcastle. The [Broadmeadow] precinct sits within one of these catalyst areas and continues to be an important part of this planning," he said.
One site certain to be transformed regardless of whether the full redevelopment goes ahead is Newcastle Basketball Stadium as a new 10-court complex is being built at Hillsborough.
Mr Hawes said the precinct was a "unique project with significant challenges to accommodate future uses contemplated in the master plan".
He said there was "no doubt elements such as residential development" would "attract immediate market interest", but there was "a lot resting" on the commercial components to support community uses that would "struggle to meet government investment benchmarks" on their own.
Broadmeadow Magic president Steve Foteff said if implemented, the master plan would help to upgrade dilapidated facilities.
He hopes Australia and New Zealand's bid for the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup is successful as it may help to expedite upgrades.
"This plan takes everything that is already there and puts in a package in a way that will work better and serve the community better," he said.
"At the moment what we have there, sure we've got a football facility, hockey and so on, but it's been like a patchwork quilt [and] well overdue [for investment].
"Connectivity with light rail and all this sort of stuff might seem a pipe-dream, but seriously that's what Newcastle deserves and we should all, as a public, get on board with it and make it happen."