COFFS Harbour City Council has voted to move forward toward the design phase of the long awaited Cultural and Civic Space project.

A majority of councillors voted 6-2 in favour for schematic designs to be drawn on the $76.5 million development including a regional gallery, central library, museum, multi-purpose community meeting rooms, shop, cafe, function space and council offices.

Construction on the preferred Gordon St/Riding Pl site is scheduled to start in July 2020 and is estimated to take two years.

A 600-page document was tabled to council outlining the design and planning process for the development.

The capital cost estimate for the development is $76.52-million, which would be offset by estimated asset sales worth $20-million and the T2S contribution of $10.5-million for a net cost estimate of $46.02-million.

Funding is proposed to come from a variety of sources including the sale of Rigby House, the Castle St Administration building, the Rose Avenue Commercial Office and the museum worth an estimated total of $20.54-million.

Cultural and Civic Space Concept 1 by Design Inc. and Lacoste Stevenson
Cultural and Civic Space Concept 1 by Design Inc. and Lacoste Stevenson Coffs Harbour City Council

Tonight's meeting heard from three community members, with Ann Leonard, a concerned citizen of 27-years and a private gallery owner speaking against the motion before council.

Ms Leonard called for the report to go on community display for a period of four weeks so the community could absorb the proposal.

"There is no time for the lay person to get their head around this document. The revised cost analysis of $76.5 million has increased on the $30 million from the previous cost estimations," Ms Leonard told councillors.

Speaking on behalf of the proposal were well known local solicitor and culture and arts personality Heather McKinnon and C.ex Group president David Doyle.

"Only in the last six years do we have a plan," Mr Doyle said.

"This plan fits that build."

Cultural and Civic Space Concept 2 by Francis-Jones Morehen Thorpe.
Cultural and Civic Space Concept 2 by Francis-Jones Morehen Thorpe. Coffs Harbour City Council

Ms McKinnon commended the way council had strategically gone about planning the development.

"Coffs council has never gone ahead with a project of this size," she said.

"Coffs is way behind in relation to cultural infrastructure. The longer we delay on turning dirt the more expensive it is going to get. The community is crying out for cultural infrastructure," Ms McKinnon said.

Cr Keith Rhoades and Cr Paul Amos voted against the motion, while Cr Jan Strom was absent.

The proposed Cultural and Civic Space in the Heart of the City has been the subject of an extensive public consultation over possible design elements and features carried out earlier this year.

More than 1,800 surveys and comments were received from members of the community on the three diverse designs.

There was clear support for the new building, as well as the benefits which include:

  • access to cultural opportunities and facilities that are not currently available;
  • cultural precinct and cultural tourism opportunity activation;
  • lifelong learning, educational opportunities and improved literacy;
  • social well-being and connections;
  • economic benefit to artists, retail and service sector; and
  • a vibrant and active central business district and city centre.
Cultural and Civic Space Concept 3 by Dominic Finlay-Jones.
Cultural and Civic Space Concept 3 by Dominic Finlay-Jones. Coffs Harbour City Council

What the councillors had to say:

Cr Rhoades, who spoke in favour of the development, but against the motion called for a decision of council to be deferred until the July 26 meeting so the community had time to look at the costings of the project and so any flaws could be identified.

"Let's all go ahead in the one direction to have this project done that is so badly needed," Cr Rhoades said.

"On such a big spend let's be sure."

Cr Amos said while there was no doubt every councillor wanted a bigger and better gallery and museum he said with the development potentially carrying an $80 million price tag he was concerned Coffs Harbour could be building another Port Macquarie 'Glasshouse.'

He noted how the dismissed Port Macquarie Council had moved to build an icon come hell or high water regardless of the cost to the ratepayers.

Cr Michael Adendorff said: "Businesses in CBD have asked for something to happen. This is a brilliant piece of work, yes 600 pages, but the quality of it far outweighs the quantity of it. We need to move forward and we need to move forward rapidly."

Cr Denise Knight: "Now is time to show leadership and move this city forward. The community will come with us.

"This is a momentous step forward for the community's cultural life and aspirations, lifelong learning opportunities, inclusivity and overall health and well-being."

"But don't lose sight of the fact that, fundamentally, this is all about our cultural and economic future. Most importantly it will be a key driver of the growth of our city as a major regional hub.

"It will transform the CBD into a vibrant, busy, attractive destination that draws in locals and visitors alike. It also offers maximum convenience - you can shop, use services, eat, exercise and enjoy a cultural experience - all in one visit to the CBD. Plus the new building will be just two minutes' walk from City Square, parking and public transport. Done right, we will see Coffs Harbour's city centre rival the very best that regional cities can offer."

On Friday Mayor Denise Knight and General Manager Steve McGrath will brief the media on the next stage in planning for the development.