The impetus for the civic precinct project began some ten years ago with two events. In 2007, the Forster School of Arts Hall had become unsafe for continued community use and was decommissioned. This left our community without valuable meeting space in the Forster CBD.
At around the same time, it was becoming apparent to the community that the Great Lakes Library building was an inadequate size - only half the NSW Library minimum recommended size for the community it serves.
The former Great Lakes Council began to investigate and plan for meeting these needs after the community indicated very emphatically this was a high priority for them.
In addition, Forster's Visitor Information Centre building was in need of expensive maintenance.
The land on which the Visitor Information Centre and the former Forster School of Arts Hall stood became the focus for a plan for the civic precinct, which would also house a new, larger library for the community. Initial plans were developed, but the small site required an expensive underground car park, and Council was seeking funding to undertake this project. It was ultimately determined that the former School of Arts site was not adequate to house the project and the focus turned to other suitable sites.
The site, located on the corner of Lake, West and Middle Streets, was acquired with the intent of utilising part of the land for the Council facilities and exploring commercial opportunities for the development of the rest of the land.
This strategic purchase for $3 million allowed the development of community facilities with improved car parking options. Council had resolved to invest $6 million to build the community facilities. Very soon after this purchase, Council was successful in obtaining Federal grant funding of $6 million, matched dollar for dollar by Council. This exciting development meant we could now build a $12 million community facility on the civic precinct site.
In 2015, Council resolved to investigate the possibility of entering into a commercial arrangement with a developer to allow a mix of private and public use of this valuable site close to Forster's CBD. After seeking expressions of interest from the market for the project, Council entered into an agreement with Enyoc, who will provide Council with $6 million in-kind towards building the community facilities for the project - a great outcome for MidCoast ratepayers. The total cost of the Project will be approximately $18 million.
The planning proposal was approved by the NSW Department of Planning and Environment in August 2017 and conditional approval of development application by the Joint Regional Planning Panel occurred on 20 September 2017.
A development agreement has been entered into between Enyoc and Council for the design and construction of community facilities, which include a modern library space, new visitor information centre and flexible community space. The agreement also allows for the residual of the site to be developed by Enyoc for commercial purposes, over several stages, which include facilities such as seniors living apartments, retail shops, supermarket, hotel and a gymnasium.
With the decision to relocate central Council office functions to one head office at Biripi Way Taree, the Forster civic precinct will now also contain the MidCoast Council customer service centre in addition to the facilities outlined above.
The JRPP resolved that separate development consent should be sought for a proposed cinema, nightclub and child care centre, which was not granted approval as part of the recent approval.
You can read the full decision on JRPP's website page.