Cairns Plans Major Upgrade

Queensland government commits funds to improve and expand convention center

  • by Tom Gresham
  • Published: July 11, 2017

Cairns Convention Centre, Queensland, Austrlaia.

Buoyed by a large commitment of governmental funding, Cairns Convention Centre,  Queensland, Australia, will begin a major expansion and refurbishment next year designed to attract thousands of additional visitors annually to the 21-year-old facility.

The upgrade will feature improvements to the center’s existing venues and the addition of a new exhibition hall and new meeting spaces. Curtis Pitt, the Queensland treasurer, announced $176 million ($133.76 million U.S.) in funding for the project June 14 as the centerpiece of an $819.2 million ($622.59 million U.S.) infrastructure spending plan for the region. Cairns is located in the tropics of Australia, along the country’s northeast coast. The city provides ready access to the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Cape Tribulation Rainforest, which are both popular tourist attractions.

Pitt said the planned upgrades are expected to bring an additional 25 large conventions and events to Cairns each year, amounting to 20,000 new visitors to the city.

“Some will stay, some will invest here, all will leave an economic or social benefit for us to enjoy,” Pitt said.

The convention center currently offers nine meeting rooms, six conference rooms, a great hall, an outdoor plaza and exhibition foyer, and a second hall. Capacities for individual spaces at the venue range from 30 to 5,000. The convention center received the International Association of Convention Centres APEX Award as the World’s Best Congress Center in 2004 and 2014, based on client surveys.

Ross Steele, general manager of the Cairns Convention Centre, said the planned expansion and renovation will help the center evolve to suit the changing needs of visitors and the regional community. It also will enable the center to host larger one-off events.

“The expansion will allow the Cairns Convention Centre to continue to grow conference business for the benefit of our region long into the future,” Steele said. “It is time to renew and expand. While it is early … the recent budget announcement will allow this to happen by adding around 3,000 square meters (approximately 9,842 square feet) of new exhibition space and associated meeting rooms to enable the center to grow convention business by hosting larger and more concurrent events. It will also allow a full refurbishment, including updated AV, Wi-Fi, soft furnishings and aesthetics of the existing center, to ensure it remains at the leading edge of convention centers for the next 25 years.”

A key piece of the project will be that the additional capacity will give the center new flexibility to seek and accommodate musical acts and other performances, Steele said. A limitation of the current space is that it does not allow to the convention center to always be ambitious in that realm.

“With additional exhibition space, it will allow us to pursue more concert business as it will free up our multiuse arena, which has doubled as our exhibition space until now,” Steele said.

Among its local draws, Cairns is home to James Cook University and Central Queensland University, and Steele said the improvements to the convention center will equip the universities to better compete to host academic and research conventions that will spotlight the expertise of their students and faculty. He said these events “will aid recognition, reputation, profile and funding opportunities for the universities and academics.”

Steele touted the role the convention center plays as a community hub that hosts events geared toward local residents, too, such as sporting events, school formals, graduations and celebration dinners. The center serves as the home of the CQU Cairns Taipans, the region’s National Basketball League team, which draws 60,000 fans a season.

Steele said the Cairns Convention Centre currently generates an estimated $80-$100 million ($60.8 million-$76 million U.S.) in economic benefit for the region annually. Pitt’s office projects new events from the facility improvements will add approximately $30 million ($22.8 million U.S.) in economic impact to the region each year. Pitt hopes the expansion serves as a catalyst for investment in the region, such as through continued hotel refurbishments and new hotel infrastructure. The new exhibition space and meeting rooms are projected to lead to 11 direct and 350 indirect jobs, according to Pitt’s office. More than 300 workers will be employed in construction.

Adam Gowlett, Queensland branch president of the Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA), said the convention center expansion should be a boost to the Cairns downtown area. The convention center is “one city block from the heart of the (Cairns Central Business District) and within walking distance to multiple hotels, restaurants, bars and the casino, making it an incredibly important attractor and contributor to city life.”

“The expansion of the center will contribute a significant injection of local building jobs right in the heart of the (Cairns Central Business District),” Gowlett said. “These large construction jobs provide certainty of work for the industry and are the best opportunity for employers to expand or take on apprentices. Trades in the city will also spend money in the (Cairns Central Business District), adding an extra layer of economic benefit. The UDIA Queensland’s Cairns Branch is excited by the announcement. We understand the plans are ready to go, so we can’t wait to see works commencing on the ground.”

Construction for the Cairns Convention Centre upgrade is slated to start following the Commonwealth Games basketball preliminaries at the facility in April 2018. Steele said the project does not yet have renderings and that it is too early to set a completion date, but he estimated the expansion and refurbishment project will take approximately two years.



  • by Tom Gresham
  • Published: July 11, 2017