By ERWIN CHLANDA
Government planners have withheld from the local Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Central Australia until quite recently significant details of the proposed Indigenous art gallery in Alice Springs.
Chamber chairman Dave Batic says at the business group’s 60th anniversary last year, Chief Minister Michael Gunner launched the Have Your Say campaign about the art gallery, but “we were not brought into the conversation at an early stage at all. It was the same with Tourism Central Australia. We both were not initially involved.
“It’s only in the last few months that we were actively being sought after for our views,” says Mr Batic.
“We made it clear that we have an interest in the project on behalf of our member businesses. The location would be a major factor toward how business would benefit.”
Tourism CA chairperson Dale McIver, at the local ABC’s Friday Wrap program (on which I was also a panel member), referred to similar experiences, having made several requests for a place at the table, but without success.
Mr Batic (pictured) said in an interview with the Alice Springs News Online: “We have asked what the gallery would mean for our local economy.
“I think the general response is they have a view as to what it should be worth to the local economy, but … I don’t think they have actually stated a number – that I am aware of, anyway.
“I’m sure they have a return on investment in mind, and we’d be most happy to find out what that would be.”
Mr Batic says this is an important indicator for the whole project: “We hope it will be a large number. It’s one of the questions we’ll be asking as the government re-commences its consultation process.
“We still haven’t canvassed our membership totally to see what their thoughts are.
“We did an online survey but we consider the data was corrupted. We could not ascertain whether non-members were voting. We have more responses than we have members. We will go out and talk to our members directly with a range of questions.”
Mr Batic says having the gallery “closer to other businesses would be beneficial. That’s just pure economics of the nature of tourism” and that would mean “ideally within the CBD somewhere”.
He says there is now information about the size of the project: “They are talking 40,000 square meters, including the green space, and that limits the options within the CBD.”
But what if being close or in the CBD diminishes the value and attractiveness of the gallery?
Says Mr Batic: “The quality of the project is paramount, but the quality will depend on its location as well.
“It’s fine to have a remarkable, iconic gallery, but if it is not located in an ideal location its appeal will be diminished.”
Mr Batic says the proximity of the gallery to businesses could be a factor that enhances it.
Also, both the Desert Park and Anzac Oval have “Indigenous content that is quite special”.
He praised the vista of the Desert Park site, backed by the MacDonnell Ranges, “but it’s still an art gallery. So, is the experience an indoor or an outdoor experience?”
He makes it clear that the gallery is the key project for the town.
Commenting on the NT and Federal Budgets Mr Batic says there is “not much to look forward to” with respect to private investment in the region.
“It comes back to long-term confidence in the economy. I relate that to airlines in Central Australia and Alice Springs over five to 10 years. What is the potential for growth?
Airlines looking at the next 10 years “are probably more focussed on Uluru as a growth sector” rather than Alice Springs. The art gallery would influence that decision making.
“If a consortium got together and had $100m to spend, what would you do with it? It’s a question I’ve raised in many forums,” says Mr Batic.
“There is some talk of doing something along these lines because there is access now to a range of government funding which would support private sector investment. That includes the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) and a range of others sources.”
There are “five or six resource projects in Central Australia that we keep a very close eye on. We’ll know within the next 12 months or so” which ones will get off the ground.
Mr Batic, who is the manager of the Alice Springs airport, says allocating $50m in Federal expenditure to enhance security for airports is a good move.
And in the NT, commitment to a further four years supporting the “centre run” is great news for Tenant Creek and Katherine. Tennant Creek has clocked up 5000 passengers for this year already, he says.
A major boon would be clinching the Qantas pilot academy for Alice Springs.
Mr Batic says the airport is putting together a “very, very strong competitive package”.
According to a request for information received from the airline just three days ago “we satisfy all their requirements”.
The project is estimated at $50m for infrastructure at the airport and in town.
It would employ 40 staff and train 100 pilots a year, moving up to 500.
IMAGES: Outback Yarns and “Parisians flock to new exhibit of Australian Aboriginal art”.
By ERWIN CHLANDA