Plans of the extensions to the Grafton Regional Gallery
Plans of the extensions to the Grafton Regional Gallery

Is $2 million too much?

COUNCILLORS who opposed spending $2 million on a $7 million extension to the Grafton Regional Gallery have been compared by a fellow councillor to the "Philistines" who opposed a university for Grafton in the 1980s.

Cr Pat Comben made the comment at Tuesday night's ordinary meeting of Clarence Valley Council, after Cr Ian Dinham put forward an amendment suggesting the council limit its input to $1 million and seek cutbacks to the overall project because of the council's financial position.

"I can't support an upgrade of this size ... I think we are getting a little bit ahead of ourselves," Cr Dinham said.

Cr Karen Toms also opposed the project, which she described as "excessive", and called for money to be spent on roads and halls that needed repair. "It is a want, not a need," she said of the project.

She said the Tourist Information Centre in South Grafton was in a rundown state and needed repair before the council could think about extending other assets that would cost even more to maintain.

Mayor Richie Williamson spoke in favour of the $7.14 million extension, saying it was important the gallery maintained its true regional status in order to attract visitors to the area.

Councillors voted overwhelmingly in favour of the larger extension detailed in a 94-page Development Framework. The council will now prepare a submission for Regional Development Australia (RDA) seeking $5 million for the project from the fund's $150 million budget.

The council also waived $40,000 in development assessment and construction certificate fees for the project and approved $32,500 for geotechnical investigations and the preparation of a project plan.

The gallery extension has been on the council's agenda for several years - a residential property at the rear of the gallery (a Robinson Ave address) was purchased for the purpose by CVC several years ago.

It is presently being rented out.

The council contributed $547,000 to the Grafton Regional Gallery in 2010/11 and the gallery returned about $748,000 to regional tourism annually, the Development Framework states.

The document asserts the extension will increase visitation by 25% from 40,000 to 50,000 visitors annually because it could attract bigger and better exhibitions.

The gallery, which boasts 1366 pieces of art (the biggest collection on the North Coast) at a value of about $1.3 million, was effectively running out of storage capacity, the document says.

The proposal would create an additional 392sq m of exhibition space, 140sq m of storage and 47sq m of conservation space, as well as upgrades to kitchen and restaurant facilities.

Other components of the expansion include upgrading the gallery's online presence and sales.

Part of the audience development would be to "establish the gallery as a 'destination venue' by creating event packages for major exhibitions including art after dark, talks, films, social activities and market these to specific audiences".

Interest on borrowings for the project range from $160,000 to $346,000 depending on the level of RDA and other funding the council secures.

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