Racing finds its form
Written on the 13 May 2009
The Brisbane Racing Club (BRC) was formed last year after a merger between the city’s two biggest racing clubs. With a proposed $1.2 billion revamp project in Doomben and Eagle Farm, the BRC will pave the way for an even more successful, vibrant racing industry to boost Brisbane’s economy. Chairman Kevin Dixon tells Brisbane Business News what the project will mean for the community down the track.
It’s certainly a bold move for the Brisbane Racing Club (BRC) to draft a self-funded $1.2 billion racing precinct to be developed over the next 10 years. What is it about this project that gives you confidence in its success?
A number of components of the project give great confidence. Firstly, getting experts involved has been a huge plus — in the past we were limited in terms of not thinking grand enough and by not understanding what is or isn’t possible. Next, we seem to have a wonderful swell of enthusiasm for the project which no doubt has come from taking the time to address all the issues that we knew about and ensuring that community concerns are addressed.
What part will the non-racing facilities have to play in the precinct, what is their importance and will there be enough demand?
The non-racing facilities are key to the project. While it is true to say we are undertaking these plans for the purpose of upgrading the racecourses, the non-racing portions are a magnificent development in themselves. Our architect Michael Rayner has done a fabulous job at developing a village community for the precinct as a unique live, work and play community. Our projections for demand are very strong — not only will we attract those looking for a lifestyle within a racing environment, but we will attract people looking for the village community, with great open aspects in an almost unheard of location these days that is 10 minutes to the city and the airport. Even though the residential areas are on what is currently the Eagle Farm Racecourse, the residential apartments won’t actually be very close to the horses – most residences will be at least half a kilometre from the living areas of the horses.
With speculators still unsure of when the downturn will end, has BRC jumped the gun or is now the perfect timing to start planning?
We believe that the timing could not be better and these types of developments are not instantaneous. We have a lengthy community consultation period and then Brisbane City Council (BCC) regulatory approvals. We will firstly be undertaking a number of enabling projects to move infrastructure — activities that are necessary but not for sale. By the time we get to the first saleable parts of the project we will — even by the view of the most pessimistic commentator — be well and truly into a recovery period.
After the Brisbane Turf Club and the Queensland Turf Club merged last year and with the BRC formally starting operations in July. What are the pros and cons of this merged operation?
The merger of the two clubs is what has unlocked the magnitude of our potential. Prior to the merger each club had to take a more conservative approach that sub-optimised the approach. As we look back it is likely that the best efforts by the individual clubs would not have realised even 30 per cent of what we are now planning. The merger of the clubs is going to plan. A number of functions have been merged and new administration facilities are currently nearing completion that will house the combined group. At the time of merger we said that no jobs would be lost as a result of the merger, and that is still the case. We have introduced some new people into the management team, and changed management structures substantially. We are very happy with progress.
How can the BRC afford such a task?
The best part of the plans we have is that it does not require any funds input from the BRC. In addition, it requires no racing industry nor Government funding. The funding is provided by our development partner (Watpac). What BRC provides that injects considerable value is the opportunity to do such a project in a fantastic location, the total removal of the need for the developer to borrow money to acquire the lands and hold them through the design and regulatory period. In addition, by dividing the project into 27 sub-projects we can allow a development schedule over extended time to satisfy the cash flow requirements. The removal of holding cost and upfront capital outlays is a very valuable contribution.
Once construction begins on the precinct, what kind of inconvenience do you expect for BRC’s race days?
There will be some inconvenience around race days. However, we have the ultimate luxury in dealing with this issue given we have two racecourses. We will organise works such that one or the other is operational at all times.
What is your vision for racing in Brisbane?
A vibrant, colourful and successful racing industry adds very significantly to the economy of its home. Brisbane racing is very successful at present, but is miles away from its potential. We want to see it reach its potential and deliver major inputs to the economy and the community, as well as ensure jobs for the many tens of thousands of people employed by the industry.
Do you think this move may encourage improved business sentiment in the community and encourage new significant project proposals in Brisbane?
We would be hopeful that this can be a turning point in the current economic times. Our success I am sure will be contagious.