TURN AROUND: Controversial to award winning: the Shellharbour Civic Centre.
TURN AROUND: Controversial to award winning: the Shellharbour Civic Centre.

Community comes round to controversial civic space

A Civic Centre that once sparked angry protests and heated debate on the floor of parliament is now winning prestigious awards.

As the Cultural and Civic Space planned for the Coffs Harbour CBD continues to draw similar heat, Mayor Denise Knight has highlighted the case of the Shellharbour Civic Centre south of Sydney in the Illawarra region.

Last month it took out a prestigious public architecture prize in the 2019 NSW Architecture Awards. It will now progress to the National Architecture Awards on November 7.

The design is based on a 'wave' concept that incorporates a curved roof on the exterior, while the interior provides for maximum natural light and open spaces.

Shellharbour Mayor Marianne Saliba was a driving force behind the project, copping lots of criticism and personal attacks along the way.


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The Shellharbour project has a number of similarities with the one proposed for Gordon Street including its CBD location.

Extensive community consultation in Shellharbour in 2010 identified the area lacked a 'City Heart'.

Now with the $60m build complete, Mayor Saliba describes it as the community's lounge room.

"I walk through there every day and people say to me 'I was one of those against it but I think it's the best thing you've ever done'," Cr Saliba said.

"We had a petition with 11,000 signatures opposed to this but now the civic centre has become the beating heart of our city."


TURN AROUND: Controversial to award winning: the Shellharbour Civic Centre.
TURN AROUND: Controversial to award winning: the Shellharbour Civic Centre.

The funding model was also similar with a number of council assets sold off, bringing in approximately $34m, in combination with a $12m loan and the use of developer contributions.

It also includes council offices.

"As soon as you factor this in you're going to have people jumping up and down, but we did the research and found we would have to borrow a substantial amount to upgrade and get the current offices just fit for purpose.

"People love coming to work now and the efficiencies from staff working in more modern, open plan offices all in the one location with greater collaboration are hard to measure," Cr Saliba said.

Another similarity is the inclusion of a library with the Mayor reporting that memberships have quadrupled since the centre opened in January last year.

The Shellharbour civic centre includes a 350-seat auditorium but Cr Saliba stresses it is not an entertainment centre.

"While conducting our research we found there were a number of performing arts facilities within the region that were running at a loss - why would council replicate this.

"It is a flat room that can be divided into different areas for functions, conferences and other events similar perhaps to the art gallery space proposed for Coffs Harbour."

The Shellharbour centre also incorporates the City Museum and it recently won a Museums and Galleries NSW Imagine Award for best New Build in the 'Capacity Building, Capital and Sustainability Programs' category.