Funding for a new stadium that is expected to revitalise Townsville following the collapse of Queensland Nickel has been secured after a tenacious campaign by the Townsville Bulletin.
The lengthy campaign culminated on Monday when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pledged that a re-elected Liberal government would contribute the $100 million needed to deliver the $250 million project.
The funding guarantees the future of the long-debate complex regardless of the outcome of the federal election.
Earlier this year Labor leader Bill Shorten pledged $100 million and last week the state government in conjunction with the National Rugby League upped their contribution to the project from $100 to $150 million.
The stadium is more than just a home for Townsville’s North Queensland Cowboys, explains Townsville Bulletin editor Ben English. It is a catalyst project that will eventually bring together the city’s entertainment and convention centres in the heart of the city and unleash a torrent of investment from the private sector as part of a broader vision for rejuvenating the CBD.
“Securing funding for the project really has electrified confidence because this city is going through one of the toughest economic downturns in its history right now,” Mr English says.
“It leads the nation in a number of indicators that it would rather not, including insolvencies and unemployment … so this could not have come at a better time.
“If ever there was story that reflects the influence of newspapers, this is it.”
“If ever there was story that reflects the influence of newspapers, this is it”
The push for the stadium complex started in the early 2000s, but was given traction by recent local government elections and federal election campaign, as part of the Bulletin’s contribution to News Corp Australia’s Fair Go for the Regions campaign.
Economic development and tourism body Townsville Enterprise has been a long-term champion of the project and has acted as a platform for key stakeholders. It has also worked closely with the Townsville Bulletin throughout the paper’s campaign.
“The project was about the revitalisation of the CBD,” explains Townsville Enterprise CEO Patricia O’Callaghan.
“If you could get a catalyst project funded by governments, the private sector would follow.”
The wheels are already turning. On the day funding was finally secured, developers and others in the business community started calling Townsville Enterprise about the new stadium.
Ms O’Callaghan described the project as a “sweet success story” for Townsville Enterprise and recognised the role of Townsville Bulletin’s campaign.
“The Bulletin played a pivotal role in being a lead advocate in this and we being an advocacy body, they being a communications platform, our partnership has really enabled a lot of traction, not just locally but nationally as well,” says Ms O’Callaghan.
“I think it would have been very difficult if this was just spoken about in boardrooms.”
Mr English described the Townsville Bulletin as “unashamedly a campaigning paper”.
“I don’t think any regional paper that has any ambition to survive in the modern market can be anything else,” he says.
Mr English explains community attitudes were lukewarm at best when the paper first got behind the project.
“As we made the case and started showing that this wasn’t just about the Cowboys, more people jumped on board. It wasn’t just about football, it was actually about redefining the city and urban renewal,” Mr English says.
“It wasn’t just about football, it was actually about redefining the city and urban renewal”
Much of the campaign was about generating interest and engagement with the project, but the paper also pushed for business cases and for the council to purchase land.
To paint a picture of community support for the complex, last month a “Give our boys a stadium” poster was printed and distributed in the Townsville Bulletin on the day of a sold-out match between the Brisbane Broncos and Cowboys.
“We had thousands of supporters holding this poster up whenever the cameras panned across the crowd because by that stage they were so passionate about us securing the stadium that we deserved,” Mr English said.
“A lot of the opposition to the project was, well why are we spending this on a stadium, we really need water security, or we really need road infrastructure.
“The argument that the Bulletin successfully put up was that we need all those things and why should we be forced to choose. It’s actually scandalous that governments have conditioned us to believe that.”
North Queensland Cowboys CEO Greg Tonner was thrilled by news of the funding, both for the Cowboys and the North Queensland community.
“A world-class facility in the heart of a vibrant regional city will be tremendous to our urban renewal, the local economy during construction and of course in the flow-on economic and social benefits when it’s fully built,” Mr Tonner said.
“All the local media – led by the Bulletin’s proudly parochial campaign to get the stadium over the line – has been exceptional. They’ve led from the front, championing the cause, which is what local media should be all about.”
The Townsville Bulletin’s former editor Lachlan Heywood said Mr English had done a great job keeping up the campaign’s momentum since he left the paper at the end of 2015 to take up the editorship of The Courier-Mail.
“It has been a long-running campaign with plenty of ups and downs, but the important thing is that this critically important piece of infrastructure for North Queensland will now finally be built,” Mr Heywood said.
“The result highlights the important role newspapers play in fighting for their readers and making their communities better places to live.”