ICC Sydney gets $1m AV top-up – after design falls short

By Julius Grafton.

Sydney’s International Convention Centre (ICC) has just spent over $1 million on additional AV equipment, barely 18 months after opening as a fully equipped venue. The centre comprises trade show halls, a convention centre, and a theatre venue to replace the Sydney Entertainment Centre.

The NSW Government shocked the events industry in 2012 by announcing the closure for three years and replacement of the Darling Harbour Convention Centre and the 12,000 seat Sydney Entertainment Centre. Touted as a major step towards competing against regional centres like Singapore, a ‘Public Private Partnership’ (PPP) financial model was created by Capella Group where a developer would design, construct and manage the new facility – in exchange for any excess land.

Lend Lease won the contract, with a design that shoehorned the new ICC and the ICC Sydney Theatre onto the previous footprint of the Darling Harbour Convention Centre – leaving the entire Sydney Entertainment Centre and its carpark open for apartment development. That development, known as Darling Square has enjoyed buoyant sales.

The State Government in exchange obtained the new ICC as a turn key facility, at no theoretical cost to the tax payer. It gave over critical design and construct details to Lend Lease, who had a responsibility to their shareholders to spend as little as possible on the build.

Somehow the State Government neglected to mandate Lend Lease spend their money on Australian steel, and the subsequent deal to buy Korean (Hyundai) pissed off the local steel industry, which needed all the help it could get.

With the apparently cut price ICC now built and open, deficiencies are plain to see. The ICC Theatre has attracted widespread audience and audio engineer derision, with poor acoustic finishes and sight-lines. The Convention Centre has a large 2,000 square metre exhibition space known as ‘The Gallery’ where inadequate floor loading prevents access by fork lifts. Other shortcomings relate to cabling, fit-out, and overall design.

For evidence of design failure, look no further than the long outdoor ramp on the facade of the facility. It features a short step every 30 metres – making it impossible for wheelchairs.

While Lend Lease are enjoying mission creep over at the old Sydney Entertainment Centre site, selling everything they are building, (see the coloured buildings on the diagram) the city has gained little. There are more ballroom and meeting room spaces, and around 25% more trade show hall – albeit split into two levels, one with unpopular columns. The ICC Theatre is much smaller than what it replaced, and now needing expensive acoustic treatment and proper IMAG projector placement.

The PPP was skewed in favour of the developer.

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