City of Bendigo seeks funds as gallery upgrade faces $21m shortfall

City of Greater Bendigo will seek a further $15 million from the federal government for the redevelopment of Bendigo Art Gallery, saying costs have blown out to $54 million.

Jessica Bridgfoot

The project was originally valued at $28 million when Council first committed funds in 2021.

That figure was subsequently revised to $48 million and the project now faces a $21 million shortfall, which the City says reflects both inflation and the forecast cost for the project in 2025 when construction is expected to start.

Bendigo Art Gallery Director Jessica Bridgfoot admits there’s no ‘Plan B’ for the project if funding doesn’t come through.

“We really need to secure federal funding to realise this next phase, so we hoping that given we’ve got the largest commitment to a regional infrastructure project in the state, that the federal government will come on board and put some funding on the table,” she told Government News.

Established in 1887, Bendigo gallery is one of the oldest and largest regional galleries in Australia and home to an extensive collection of 19th Century European and Australian Art.

Over the last ten years it’s hosted numerous international exhibitions including the blockbuster Elvis: Direct from Graceland, which drew more than 400,000 visitors to become the Gallery’s most successful exhibition ever.

Massive redevelopment

The massive redevelopment will include a new central foyer, enhanced gallery spaces and a large blockbuster exhibition space on the second-level.

The expansion will also deliver a world-class learning centre for students,  a Traditional Owner Place of Keeping for Dja Dja Wurrung artefacts, a redeveloped restaurant and expanded public spaces and commercial opportunities.

Chief Executive Officer Craig Niemann says increased costs are a reality for major projects in a post-COVID environment, and construction needs to begin in 2025 to manage any further increases to what will be City’s biggest ever infrastructure project.

Craig Niemann

“Any business or organisation that is responsible for delivering infrastructure is facing the same cost pressures,” Mr Niemann said.

To date, the project has a confirmed commitment of $33 million, including $21 million from the Victorian government, $9 million from the City and $3 million from the gallery board.

Council initially contributed $3 million but increased its contribution to $9 million last year.

In the new year, the City will apply for $15 milion under the federal government’s Growing Regions program. It’s also looking for  $6 million through philanthropic support to get across the line.

Mr Niemann said the City is confident of submitting a favourable application to the Federal Government.

Ready to proceed to public tender

Ms Bridgfoot says the project will proceed to public tender as soon as planning approval and the remaining project funds are in the bag.

“Once the permit’s approved the project is shovel ready,” she said.

“If we had all the funding now we could actually go into construction tomorrow.

“The application will be on display for 14 days and expressions of interest for the next round of the Growing Regions program are expected to open early in 2024, so this should provide time for the application to be appropriately considered by the City’s planning department.”

The cancellation of the Victoria 2026 Commonwealth Games had brought forward the City’s timeline for delivering the project, she added.

The original plan was to wait until after the Games, but the decision to dump them meant Council was now looking at starting construction in the second half of 2025.

“Subject to securing the remaining funding and signing off the planning applications with the City and Heritage Victoria, it is our intention to start construction in the second half of 2025.”

Bendigo Art Gallery is already a major drawcard for domestic and international travellers, attracting between 150,000 to 200,000 visitors each year.

The redevelopment aims to increase visitors by approximately 30 per cent – with an extra 60,000 visitors expected to walk through the doors each year.

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