‘Extreme disappointment’: Pushback to council’s sports upgrade snub

Sporting clubs are urging Adelaide City Council to reconsider a decision to remove $5m in funding to upgrade sports facilities in the southern park lands, telling councillors their current facility is an “absolute embarrassment” that is “reaching the stage of being dangerous”.

Jun 20, 2023, updated Aug 28, 2023
This sports facility in the southern park lands has long been slated for an upgrade. Photo: Brett Hartwig/InDaily

This sports facility in the southern park lands has long been slated for an upgrade. Photo: Brett Hartwig/InDaily

The Adelaide Community Sport and Recreation Association (ACSARA) has been pushing for more than five years to redevelop its football/cricket grounds in Park 21 West (Golden Wattle Park/Mirnu Wirra) located between South Terrace and Goodwood Road in the southern park lands.

The proposal includes a new two-storey club rooms – featuring more change rooms, new social and commercial space, and an expanded storage area – to replace its current 370-square-metre facility near Goodwood Road.

Concept designs for the proposed two-storey clubrooms in Park 21W. Image: City of Adelaide

The current facilities. Photo: Brett Hartwig/InDaily

The current change rooms and storage facilities host around 30,000 footballers, cricketers and other sports users each year, according to ACSARA, which has around 15 member clubs.

City councillors were told at a committee meeting in May that the redevelopment was “shovel ready” with $2.55m already committed from the state government and the club.

Council administration proposed putting $5.05m towards the upgrade, which includes a broader masterplan and improvement of Park 21W’s sporting fields.

Concept designs for the proposed two-storey clubrooms in Park 21W (right) to replace the current facilities (left). Images: Google Maps and City of Adelaide

A $150,000 allocation to commence “detailed design” work was proposed for next financial year, with the remaining $4.9m to come in yet-to-be decided future years.

But councillors chose to remove the $150,000 funding – and the future $4.9m commitment – from the draft budget due to concerns the two-storey clubrooms would increase building footprint on park lands.

This followed Lord Mayor Jane Lomax-Smith describing some of the proposed clubroom concept designs in park lands as resembling “megaliths” and the Park 21W upgrade as looking like “a development site of monumental scale”.

Photo: Brett Hartwig/InDaily

Photo: Brett Hartwig/InDaily

The sporting clubs that use Park 21W have pushed back against the council’s decision during public consultation on the draft budget, which started on May 26.

On June 9, council published a summary of its consultation results to date, showing that of 178 survey respondents, 110 were seeking funding for sports infrastructure in Park 21.

Andrew Zobel, senior coach at Adelaide Lutheran Football Club, a member organisation of ACSARA, spoke to councillors last Tuesday night urging them to reinstate funding.

“Our facilities are an absolute embarrassment and they’re reaching the stage of being dangerous,” Zobel said.

“The fact that we actually managed to attract a number of quality young men and women to the club despite the decrepit state of the facilities is a testament to the role our organisation plays in the community.

“I would ask that consideration be given to the role these facilities actually play in support of those moving to the city, and also the many locals that use and enjoy the park lands and clubrooms.”

Adelaide Lutheran Sports Club is one of the most frequent users of Park 21W. Photo: Brett Hartwig/InDaily

ACSARA president Mark Borgas also spoke to councillors last Tuesday, telling them the decision to remove the $5.05m budget allocation caused “extreme disappointment”.

“You’ve already received a very large number of responses from members and other members of Park 21 West; therefore, I don’t think I need to explain the importance of this project to the thousands of users of this part of the park lands,” Borgas said.

“This facility is not just used by a football club or a cricket club or private-school-funded old scholars organisations – it is a truly community sporting hub, supporting over 15 different sporting organisations and surrounding schools in line with the council’s objective to support flexible venues and spaces.”

Borgas argued the upgrade would provide a “fit for purpose facility” to support the three and a half cricket/football ovals in Park 21W and comply with AFL, SACA and other peak body guidelines.

“The existing council building does not even come close to complying with these standards,” he said.

“I don’t think I need to dwell any longer on the adequacy of the existing building, as every councillor that has seen this building agrees that something has to be done.”

In a written submission, Adelaide Lutheran Football Club president Mick Emmett argued his sporting organisation would be “at risk” if the facilities upgrade didn’t go ahead.

He also said the current building required housing opposition clubs “in a dark and dingy space that is embarrassing to open up”.

“The umpires are crammed into a dark space that is also required for storage,” he wrote.

“This unique sporting organisation, with connection to South Australia’s proud Germanic heritage, is at risk here.

“Please assist us in supporting us as you have in the past as an accepted and valued tenant of the parklands and Adelaide sporting landscape.”

Lord Mayor Lomax-Smith told the sporting club representatives that the council would make a final decision on the Park 21W upgrade by June 27.

Deputy Lord Mayor Phillip Martin, who tabled the motion which removed Park 21W from council’s funding plans, defended the decision, but said there was a “legitimate discussion” to be had about building fit-for-purpose sporting facilities in the park lands.

He told InDaily that an “$8m complex on the park lands with a function facility was to my mind an inappropriate thing for us to be considering when we are in budget repair”.

“We are not flush with cash,” he said.

“The City of Adelaide is in budget repair following some of the darkest years of the city in terms of the impact of COVID on our revenue and on projects generally.

“$5 million is a very substantial sum of money.

“There is a legitimate discussion to be had about fit for purpose change rooms, toilets, and storage facilities for sporting groups on the park lands.

“But now, in these extraordinarily difficult financial times, is not the moment.”

He also argued that the council has not contributed to sporting facility upgrades in the park lands for the last 10 years.

“What’s been presented to us is that we should somehow change our budget, include a $5m cost that was never there and immediately assist a sporting club in a way that we’ve not assisted any other previously.

“That’s not to say it’s not an issue for discussion – we should do that.”

At a pre-budget committee meeting last month, Lord Mayor Lomax-Smith said council should consider the Park 21W funding within the broader policy issue of “how we manage investment in building in the park lands”.

“There are complex policy issues that are not really for the budget, and I think we should express our desire to help the club prepare for the poor state of the building and replace it with whatever’s required, make it clear that we’re not happy with the size,” she said.

“But the policy element about the ownership, the lease length and the initial instruction to the property user, they should not be going off and designing elements without any input from us as custodians (of the park lands).

“I think that’s the challenge that we have to resolve as a policy matter because otherwise we’ll keep getting these and fight over them.”

Organised sport facilities represent 14 per cent of the park lands, with only 2.5 per cent restricting access, according to council data.

Over the last 40 years, the footprint of sporting areas in the park lands has decreased by around 19 per cent, or 28 hectares, although organised sport still accounts for 20 per cent of the approximately nine million visits to the park lands each year.

Public consultation on council’s draft budget ended on Sunday, June 18.

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