Lismore will apply for more than $2 million from the federal government to realise the long-awaited dream of a new Lismore art gallery.
A majority of councillors last night supported a mayoral minute from Cr Jenny Dowell to apply for the money under the National Stronger Regions Fund.
The gallery was given the nod instead of an upgrade of sewerage works in South Lismore.
In speaking for her motion, Cr Dowell said that both projects were worthy of support but said it was time to support the gallery.
She said total cost of the proposed development would be $4.6 million, with $4 million for the gallery and $600,000 for the open space or a piazza.
She said a secret donor was ready to stump up $500,000 and the community had already pledged $120,000.
Combined with the value of the existing building and other grants, the council was close to matching half the cost with limited borrowings.
Cr Dowell said the gallery and piazza, to be located in the old C Block at the Conservatorium in Keen Street, had been high on the community’s wish list for years.
The present art gallery was established 60 years ago, but had only ever been intended as a temporary measure.
Cr Greg Bennett led the charge against the decision, arguing that an upgrade of the South Lismore sewerage works would provide infrastructure for the proposed development of 1500 homes on the north Lismore plateau.
‘Instead of getting a grant for the sewerage works we will have to borrow money for the gallery,’ he said.
Cr Gianpiero Battista said although he understood Cr Bennett’s dilemma, ‘if we don’t act now the gallery won’t be built.
‘It is time. I’m just hoping that the community will get behind this because I strongly believe, being Italian, in the value of a piazza in the CBD,’ he said.
Cr Neil Marks said the council had been pushing for growth for the past six years and ‘we need sewerage before north Lismore plateau gets up’.
‘We have the opportunity to grab $10 million of a $23 million project and while it’s hard to be passionate about a sewerage plant, all those people moving to Lismore will need somewhere to sit and think,’ he said.
Cr Simon Clough said however the federal government’s National Stronger Regions Fund was only $200 million Australia wide, which would be ‘cut and diced in so many ways that I think they’re dreaming [that council would receive $10 million from the fund]’.
‘North Lismore plateau is still being delayed and we don’t even know if it’s going ahead whereas the art gallery is something the community is passionate and excited about.’
Cr Clough also pointed out that the creative industries were growing at 25 per cent per annum, employing 2,300 people.
‘So we have one project with a lot of question marks over it and one that the community is passionate about,’ he said.
Cr Graham Meinke spoke in favour of the sewerage works and warned other councillors not to vote for ‘pet projects’.
But Cr Isaac Smith said Lismore needed more things to draw people into the CBD, and the gallery had been a long-held dream.
‘It’s hard to believe a project that has been on the books for 50 plus years can be called a pet project,’ he said.
When the vote was taken, Crs Bennett, Marks, Schibel and Meineke voted against the gallery, but the numbers were in favour of the gallery, much to the delight of members of the public who applauded the decision.