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Summernats adrift

After the gates have closed on three of Canberra's largest tourism drawcards, and the Groovin the Moo festival wraps up after the huge weekend ahead, uncertainty remains around the long-term future of their key venue, Exhibition Park in Canberra.

Summernats, the Royal Canberra Show and the National Folk Festival have attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors to Canberra in the past four months but the ACT government isn't forthcoming with promoters on its future intentions for the precinct.

Action from the Summernats Burnout Championships in January. Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Andy Lopez, the co-owner of Summernats, says event promoters deserve to be better informed.

"We're actively trying to secure the event's long-term future in Canberra but after years of polite negotiations, and more recently, months of meetings and one-way proposals from us to government, we're still waiting to find out what's happening," he said.

"I'm normally a big fan of wheel spinning but right now, we're after traction."

Although Summernats has its roots in Canberra from when founder Chic Henry set the concept into gear here in 1988, it's little wonder that the uncertainty around Exhibition Park has the owners of the franchise hedging their bets.

For the first time, the 30-year-old Canberra-based Summernats brand has extended its reach into Rockhampton in Queensland, with the RockyNats festival to be staged there from June 26-28 next year.

It already has a separate event in Alice Springs, RedCentreNats, which is staged during August.

Meanwhile, on behalf of the ACT government, environmental consultants are scoping the development potential of the prime 70-hectare site bordered by Flemington Road, Old Well Station Road and Northbourne Avenue, now with a light rail stop right at its entrance.

I'm normally a big fan of wheel spinning but right now, we're after traction. Summernats co-owner Andy Lopez

ACT government tender documents were released in February to assess "urban renewal planning feasibility" for Exhibition Park, Kenny and its surrounds over the next two years.

"The urban renewal division [is yet to determine] the vision and the type of development that will occur on the site. However, this may include mixed-use residential, commercial, and educational," the tender brief stated. Kenny is a new suburb to the north of Exhibition Park and south-east of Harrison, listed for tentative release in 2020-21.

This would bring residences closer to the noise and environmental "drift" generated by such drawcards as the Summernats burnouts.

Mr Lopez said the ACT government's recently commissioned report showed that Summernats generated $31.9 million in economic activity in the ACT, of which $28.5 million was from interstate visitors.

And he believes there's potentially an even larger return to come.

"With appropriate government investment, the Summernats could be worth $40 million or more to the hospitality, tourism, automotive and retail businesses at a very quiet time of year [in the ACT]," he said.

"What we'd like is the certainty of a three- or five-year deal so we can plan and further grow the event." SOURCE:

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