Plan examines Art in the Heart vision

An artists impression of the combined gallery and museum that has been proposed for the Art in the Heart site near the corner of Keen and Magellan streets.

The Richmond River Historical Society turned 70 this year and has only two birthday wishes that the museum be included in Lismores new cultural precinct and they get a new lift to assist the elderly.

When plans for the cultural precinct (known as Art in the Heart) were unveiled in 2004, a new $12 million cultural centre housing the museum and gallery was designed for the site. This plan was adopted by Council in November 2005.

However, a business plan released last week by Tsikleas Andrews Property Solutions suggests the $62 million project needs to be revised for it to be economically viable. They have included two options in the paper. Option One would see the museum remain at its current site in the old Council Chambers on Molesworth Street and they would receive a $200,000 refurbishment including their much-needed lift. Option Two would see the cultural centre built as initially proposed.

The business plan described the original 2004 master plan as substantial and ambitious and recommends changing several elements to speed up the development of the cultural centre and reduce Councils financial risk.

In particular it recommends scrapping the underground car parking due to the high costs associated with construction and maintenance in a flood-prone area.

It describes the six-storey office tower as a high risk component and suggests seeking expressions of interest from the private sector for its development. Alternatively, it proposes Council move its Goonellabah chambers onto the site to attract other government offices. The business plan also recommends Council consider a hotel/motel complex with serviced apartments and conference facilities as part of the residential component to generate revenue. Another key element is increasing the retail space from 270 square metres to 1000 square metres.

Despite the significant changes outlined in the business plan, Council would still face an annual $3 million shortfall over a 20-year loan period if required to fund the entire project (and assuming all commercial space was leased). Council now intends to use the business plan to approach government and business, hoping to attract grants and private investment that would greatly reduce Councils financial contribution.

But none of this matters to Richmond River Historical Society secretary, Geoff Foley, who simply wants an assurance that the museum will be given a new home alongside the gallery.

Option One is not a goer, Geoff said and we will be strongly encouraging the Council to go with Option Two. It is impossible for the museum to stay in its current location and the Council fully knows that. We just dont have the room.

Linda Raymond, from Museums and Galleries NSW, wholeheartedly agreed with Geoff and said leaving the museum out of the Art in the Heart site effectively sidelines an integral part of Lismores culture.

The fact that the Council sees the museum as an optional extra just isnt appropriate, she said. I have had over 20 years experience in museums and I can say without hesitation that Lismore has a magnificent collection that is really well looked after, thanks to the efforts of the volunteers. What I want to ensure is that the community and Council understands what an important cultural and economic aspect of Lismore the museum is, and they have it all at their fingertips.

Councils acting executive director of planning and governance, Wendy Adriaans, said Council was seeking public feedback before any final decision was made.

The business plan is a way of looking at the options how Council can progress, how it can be funded, and the commercial and business opportunities that are available, she said. Its impossible to say at this point what will be the outcome. Suffice to say that the Council will look after the museum and the Historical Society no matter what the decision is.

The business plan can be viewed on Councils website at Submissions close on September 22.

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