Showground under threat

By CRAIG McTEAR

PAUL Israel hopes a Coffs Harbour Showground sell-off isn't looming.

The Showground Trust chairman said while the 27 hectares of prime land was "priceless', it should remain a 'great community asset'.

"I don't think they (the NSW Government) would dare sell it. We hope it's not an issue," he said.

The Trust -- which has been sacked by Lands Minister Tony Kelly and replaced by an administrator (effective from Friday next week) - believes the community would fight to keep it in public hands.

Mr Israel said the six-member board was disappointed with Mr Kelly's decision, but he felt it could be a blessing in disguise.

"We're probably a little bit relieved, considering we're in a very competitive market for conferences and functions, but we've got a lot of future bookings," Mr Israel said.

"We're doing very well. Our caravan park (the Coffs Harbour Tourist Caravan Park) is also trading very well, considering we've also got strong competition on that front."

Mr Israel said the Trust was not in financial trouble, but he admitted 'we could have some help with things'.

"We do have some financial constraints. The Trust is still paying off a 10-year loan, worth $600,000 at the time, to build the Norm Jordan Pavilion.

"The Lands Department keeps saying that's hanging over our heads, when the Minister could easily write away that loan. It would mean nothing to them.

"If they did that, this place would be bustling.

We've also got GST, workers compensation, and the annual Lands Department levy on the caravan park. That levy takes five per cent of gross income.

"Also, over the last 18 months, we've spent $50,000 on airconditioning in the Norm Jordan Pavilion, which has led to more bookings."

Mr Israel said the Trust had, over the years, looked to the Lands Department for assistance with marketing plans, business advice, and stewardship in general, but 'hadn't got it'.

"Unfortunately, the Lands Department haven't done anything constructive to help us.

"I think the Trust would like to keep going with the way things have been, with the full support of the Lands Department."

He said the new administrator might be able to 'tighten it up and prune costs'.

The Trust's executive officer, Lorraine Tibbs, said it was sad Mr Kelly's decision had come at a time when 'we have really started to go ahead with everything'.

"Over the years, we've tried to get grants, but the Lands Department has said we don't need it because we're 'self-sufficient', and they lend us the money instead."



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