A unique partnership opportunity has been recognised, with Kempsey Shire Council resolving to accept an offer to take over and reopen the Slim Dusty Centre for six months, while preparing a detailed business case that may see ownership of the Centre permanently transferred to council.
The Centre closed abruptly in March due to COVID-19 restrictions, following a period of reduced visitation resulting from the impact of drought and bushfires.
The vision as agreed by the councillors at Tuesday's council meeting, is that the $10 million centre can potentially be transferred to council ownership to be operated as a civic and cultural centre, whilst retaining the permanent Slim Dusty exhibition.
In the short term, council will work in partnership with the Slim Dusty Foundation and the Slim Dusty Family to operate and manage the centre on a reduced scale for a maximum period of six months, subject to certain key conditions being met including a legal review.
Kempsey Shire Mayor Liz Campbell expressed the desire to see the centre survive the current challenges and thrive as a community and cultural institution.
"The Slim Dusty Centre represents an important modern landmark in the shire and a vital link to our heritage," she said.
"For more than a decade the Kirkpatrick family and others worked relentlessly to secure funding and build the amazing facility we have today. The Kirkpatrick family have personally made enormous financial contributions to the establishment and operation of the centre. For the family and the Foundation to take this step to secure the centre's future demonstrates their character and passion."
Dr David Kirkpatrick, Slim's son and chair of the Slim Dusty Museum Trust Fund says this decision marks a new chapter for the centre that ensures accessibility to the exhibition for all Slim Dusty and Joy McKean fans.
"This partnership truly recognises the Slim Dusty Centre as a unique and nationally significant community project in a regional area," he said.
"A significant effort has gone into establishing the centre, curating the exhibits and working with our charity and stakeholders to build the brand of the museum. We will continue to focus on that area and bring new exhibits to life while trusting council's expertise to improve the operational management and marketing to allow the centre to reach its full commercial potential."
If permanently transferred, the centre would represent a significant asset for council. The building and fit out of the centre were funded through multi-million-dollar grants from the state and federal governments, including a $6 million Federal grant under the Better Regions Program and a $1.5 million grant from the state government. Council contributed $102,500 to the project as well as an in-kind donation of a lighting system.
Should council take over the centre, it is envisaged that the project could also assist council in addressing the recommendations outlined in the recently adopted Community Infrastructure Strategy, by potentially becoming a community event and cultural space in Kempsey.
Council will work towards having the centre reopened in some capacity before Christmas and consider the possibility to incorporate visitor information into the centre.
Council staff will now proceed with detailed investigation of the long-term transfer of the centre to council ownership, carrying out the necessary due diligence and negotiations with the Foundation before a detailed business plan and further recommendation is presented to council next year.
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