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Live and kicking: Olympics give new Roma Street arena a sense of purpose

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Without hugely popular sporting teams to draw a crowd, taxpayers would have to fund the Brisbane Live arena – once costed at $2 billion.

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Brisbane Live has been talked about for years, as an inner-city replacement for the tired entertainment centre at Boondall, taking advantage of the Roma Street transit centre redevelopment. At times, the project seemed more theoretical than practical, and the social distancing restrictions of the pandemic only added to the uncertainty.

But Brisbane being named the preferred host of the 2032 Olympics has given the project a new sense of purpose: it could house a drop-in pool for the swimming competition, where Australians traditionally excel, and prove its worth as a multi-purpose venue.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Monday confirmed the Brisbane Live proposal was the subject of sensitive discussions within government. Today, Palaszczuk attended an office opening with the project’s main advocate, Harvey Lister, and seemed keen to make it work.

Palaszczuk said Brisbane Live could fall within the new framework established by the government and Olympic officials to avoid wasteful infrastructure spending. In the coming months, a masterplan will be developed, aligning sports with existing, temporary, upgraded and new venues, potentially including Brisbane Live.

“We don’t want to build big new stadiums, we want practical solutions,” Palaszczuk said, after opening the Asia-Pacific headquarters of architecture firm Populous, which has designed stadia in the past.

“It’s got to be practical and it’s got to be part of the legacy.

“I think that Queenslanders would love a music entertainment venue that would be the legacy.”

Lister is chairman and chief executive of ASM Global (Asia Pacific). He said a drop-in pool was certainly an option for Brisbane Live, which had been conceived as a place where event organisers could “do anything” – from indoor sports to concerts and TV spectaculars, everything from Disney on Ice to monster trucks.

Premier Palaszczuk with Populous global director Paul Henry

“These venues have a real need in a market and it’s time that Queensland’s capital city has a venue of similar scale,” Lister said, acknowledging that Brisbane Live might also allow the entertainment centre to be retired.

But while ASM Global has venues overseas where top-tier sporting teams are the anchor tenant, providing ongoing ticket revenue, Lister said Brisbane Live would need government funding as social infrastructure.

“I don’t think there’s anywhere in the world where a major arena like this can be built and funded by the private sector with what the public pay for tickets,” Lister said.

Palaszczuk would not be drawn on options, but suggested three levels of government could potentially fund Brisbane Live. It is one of several above-ground sites for Cross River Rail that have yet to take shape.

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