Geoff Helisma | Deputy Premier John Barilaro’s announcement of the Grafton Regional Gallery’s successful $7.6million grant application to Regional Cultural Fund last week has drawn criticism from those fearing it will add to Clarence Valley Council’s financial woes. However, the findings of several analysts employed by The Gallery Foundation, which put $30,000 towards making the submission, predict the refurbished and substantially expanded gallery will reap economic and tourism benefits for the valley. The council’s Environment Planning and Community director, Des Schroder, provided some of the data used in the submission. The cost benefit analysis – conducted to standards set by the NSW Treasury for capital projects in excess of $5million – found a benefit cost ratio of 1.29:1, which means each $1million invested generates $1.29million in community benefit. With regard to tourism expenditure, the estimated benefit over a 30-year period amounts to $6.6million. The social benefit was estimated at $2.37million; in the form of leisure, satisfaction, personal development and social interaction. The gallery’s declining patronage of over recent years – 2015: 31,853 visitors; 2016: 29,360 visitors; and, 2017: 23,978 visitors, as reported in Grafton Regional Gallery Business Plan 2019-22 – is expected to surpass the 50,000 “conservative visitation” forecasted in the grant submission. Ongoing employment at the refurbished gallery is estimated to be 10.5 full time equivalent (FTE); the gallery currently employs 3.5 FTE plus casuals. The construction phase is expected to generate 69 jobs. The cost benefit report contends that positive benefits will be realised in the following categories: tourism; volunteering, the community through multiple social benefits, gross regional product (including tourism); local jobs during and post construction; and, in general terms will “deliver a positive contribution to the Australian economy” – while noting that a positive benefit cost ratio is achieved “even with the social benefits excluded (volunteering and direct user benefits)”. Analysis of other NSW galleries that have undergone major refurbishment has shown “an average 146 per cent visitor growth after five years”. Part of the submission outlines how “on-going operational costs and outward year funding considerations will be addressed through a new approach to the gallery’s programming”, including the introduction of: higher level of curated exhibitions with broader audience appeal; ticketed events (large touring exhibitions, fusion arts performance, mini block buster events); expanded public arts and cultural development programs; local artist professional development; regional arts exhibition and sales; school visits and programs; and, space/venue hire. “However, this does not come at the cost of accessibility,” the submission stated; “80 per cent of the new programming is fee free with the gallery being repositioned to engage and encourage broader audience participation, social inclusion and community interaction.” Mr Schroder assured the Independent that ratepayers would not be footing any of the costs for the gallery’s construction, which was estimated to be in the vicinity of $6.329million as of August 2017, when councillors resolved that a successful grant must “include all known capital costs for the project … at no cost to Clarence Valley Council”. Councillors also resolved that any “additional ongoing operational costs as a result of the works, including depreciation, be met from the reduced annual budget allocation for the Grafton Regional Gallery operation in 2018/19, 2019/20 and 2020/21, as per council’s adopted 4-year delivery program”. To meet the conditions of the councillors’ decision, Mr Schroder said “we’ve added in contingency to allow for increasing costs [due to inflation] and added project management costs”. “It’s totally funded … and we also had two different quantity surveyors do an analysis in March this year to make sure the costing was up to date,” he said. He said the asset’s depreciation was “the biggest issue” when it comes to operating the completed gallery. “We’ve actually had to [include] that as part of our submission, so we’ve got a plan for that,” he said. Additional revenue will be generated by creating meeting rooms, “which makes it much more of a community hub”. However, Mr Schroder said that aspect of the new gallery “would mostly be run as more of a corporate function centre”.