Recently Canberra was privileged to have Larry Oltmann visit for a two-day workshop on the proposed Australia Forum convention centre. The Australia Forum workshop in light of the Australia Forum Scoping Study (2010) and the City to the Lake Project objectives, within the context of the City Plan.
It was exciting to participate in the workshop, which considered potential sites for the new convention centre and concluded that the City Hill site (bounded by Constitution Avenue, London Circuit, Commonwealth Avenue and Vernon Circle) would not only accommodate the Australia Forum functional brief, it also had the potential to achieve an iconic outcome for the city. The design concept for the new convention centre, developed during the workshop, reinforced the need for flexibility and the ability to accommodate a significant expansion in the Canberra convention market over the next decade, as well as catering for ceremonial events appropriate for the national capital.
While he was in Canberra Larry Oltmann also gave a lecture at the War Memorial. Titled The Right Building in the Right Place, he outlined the history of the design and location of convention centres around the world – from the 1960s when convention centres were built in city centres but the architecture tended to be that of a “box with a dock”, through to the 1980s and 90s when better designs were located inappropriately in industrial wastelands.
More recently the trend has been to move convention centres back into the city centre, to make them a focal point of the city and to design them as iconic meeting places that reconnect people with their city and reflect the unique character of the city – the Right Building in the Right Place.
Perhaps the most inspiring takeout from Larry’s presentation was that Canberra has an opportunity to design a new convention centre that is iconic in design and positions the city both nationally and internationally – as a smart city and knowledge economy; a place where BIG conversations take place; a place where world-leading scientists and researchers discover new solutions in our world- class universities and research institutions; a place that is home to our national cultural institutions and collections and our National Parliament; a place with an exceptional lifestyle; a place of brilliant possibilities.
Larry stressed that all buildings need to be thought of as meeting places and convention centres, in particular, can act as a catalyst for cities to change, to become better places to live.
Designed and located optimally, a new convention centre in Canberra will also add significantly to the economy. Larry quoted the fact that for every one dollar spent by a convention delegate, only ten cents goes to the convention facility itself. The other ninety cents flows into the economy more generally via spending on accommodation, restaurants and retail purchases. As an example of the economic impact of the business meeting industry, the latest $100m expansion of the Adelaide convention centre was repaid within five years from specific revenue that flowed into the economy from conferences.
Larry Oltmann’s contribution vindicated the overwhelming industry support that the Australia Forum convention centre has attracted. In August 2013 over 50 peak industry bodies, National Institutions, research and learning institutions and other key organisations signed a Statement of Support unanimously identifying the Australia Forum convention centre project as the top priority for the ACT. Together these organisations represent all of the key industries and over half of the private sector employment base in the ACT and region. All have agreed that investment in a new state-of-the- art meeting facility is an urgent priority for Canberra.
Canberra Business Council and the Canberra Convention Bureau will continue to advocate at both the Federal and ACT Government levels and with the private sector for a commitment to progress the new convention centre project as a priority.