January 11, 2022 | By Graeme Kemlo

Work on a second major convention centre for Victoria is set to start this year with final funding secured for Geelong Convention and Exhibition Centre (GCEC).

A late December announcement provided an additional $120 million for the long-awaited centre, adding a 200-room luxury hotel, retail and commercial premises, all to be built on the site of a Deakin University carpark overlooking Corio Bay.

Funding for the project that will feature a 1,000 seat plenary now totals $294 million – $261 million from the Victorian government, $30 million from Canberra and $3 million from the City of Greater Geelong.  It is estimated that it will generate $350 million in local economic benefit during construction and $50 million once operational.

The addition of the hotel was welcomed by Tourism Greater Geelong and the Bellarine executive director Brett Ince who said it would provide a “significant boost” to the region’s offerings as tourism destination, with the region “increasingly becoming a destination of choice for business events”.  It is understood to be a four-star hotel that will be incorporated into GCEC which will also have 3,000m2 of exhibition space, banqueting and meeting rooms.

While Geelong is Victoria’s second largest city with a population of about 265,000, it is predicted to grow by another 100,000 over the next decade and has overcome economic difficulties caused by the closure of manufacturing businesses, particularly the Ford factory and associated suppliers. It houses the national headquarters for Kmart and Cotton On and its port handles exports worth more than $1 billion each year, mostly from Western Victorian producers.

Before COVID-19 shut down the international cruise industry’s access to Australian ports, Geelong had negotiated to host regular visits by passenger ships to its natural deep water harbour 75km south of Melbourne’s port.

Geelong is also the new home of the Tasmanian car ferry service which will move permanently from Port Melbourne to a new purpose-built facility at Corio Quay later this year.

Prior to the December funding announcement for the convention centre, there were fears the development had stalled.

In October 2021, Victorian Liberal Senator Sarah Henderson blamed the sitting Labor government saying: “I am extremely concerned about the slow progress on the $174.2 million Geelong Convention and Exhibition Centre (GCEC) for which the state Labor government is solely responsible.”

She said she had raised concerns in February 2021 about the announced development timeline that indicated work would start in early 2022.

“I raised concerns about this timeline including the ‘early 2022’ construction start date which I said was not remotely credible, given the detailed design work is expected to take between 12 and 18 months.”

It is understood final negotiations with Deakin University were concluded late last year enabling the valuable waterfront parcel of land now used as a student carpark to be transferred to the state and for an alternate carpark to be developed nearby.

The most recent announcement said the Victorian government was expected to release the expression of interest for architects, designers and builders in early 2022.

There is expected to be a stakeholder engagement process that would “also focus on commercial opportunities to activate the precinct and create better connections to the CBD and Western Beach”.

No completion date for GCEC has been announced.