Plans for the new Sydney International Convention, Exhibition and Entertainment Precinct (SICEEP) at Darling Harbour have drawn concerns from trade exhibitors due to its configuration.
While the proposed exhibition space will be 13,000 square metres bigger in the new convention centre, contiguous space will be smaller, with only 20,000 square metres on the ground floor as opposed to the current 27,000 square metres across one floor.
A second floor will offer 13,000 square metres of exhibition space with additional space on the outdoor event deck and in the convention centre.
The 20,000 square metres of contiguous space is significantly smaller than the 30,000 square metres of clearspan space available in the Melbourne Exhibition Centre – the largest contiguous space in the Southern Hemisphere.
Despite the concerns at the configuration of the new exhibition centre, Joyce DiMascio, general manager of the Exhibition & Event Association of Australasia, says the industry is in the hands of very good operators in Lend Lease and Ogden.
“In initial discussions with Ogden, they have undertaken to ensure that in the detailed design our input is considered to maximise utilisation,” she said in comments to the Australian Financial Review.
Infrastructure NSW has also defended the design saying that stacked exhibition centres worked well in place like Hong Kong and Vancouver, adding that only five exhibitions a year require space of 25,000 square metres or more.
Such exhibitors would need to be convinced to have their expos over two levels or Sydney could lose them to Melbourne.
Development of the Darling Harbour convention centre has also come under fire from Philip Cox, the architect who designed the current exhibition centre and from another well-known architect Darrel Conybeare, who described Cox’s building as the best in Darling Harbour.
Construction of the new exhibition centre is due to begin in 2014 and be completed in 2016.
Goldman Sachs analyst Andrew MacFarlane said developing the $1 billion convention centre was an “important win” for Lend Lease “given major projects have been relatively rare in recent years” and will add $2 billion to its $9.3 billion of Australian construction revenue backlog as of June 2012.
Goldman Sachs expects Lend Lease’s share of equity in the public-private partnership will amount to around $100 million with developer acting as development and construction manager as well as project manager through Capella.