The future of the Western Bulldogs appears assured. In a stunning financial and political coup for the AFL's poorest club, Prime Minister John Howard will today announce a $20 million redevelopment of Whitten Oval.
The revamped home for the Bulldogs will become the heart of Victoria's western suburbs football community, incorporating health, leisure and social services.
Months of behind-the-scenes negotiations have culminated in today's announcement with the Coalition promising $8 million to the struggling club, the Victorian Government $3 million and the AFL $3.5 million.
The rest of the money will come from the five local governments linked to the western region (a total $2 million) with the remainder to be raised by the club. It is believed the AFL could place a levy on the Bulldogs' home games at Telstra Dome to help raise the funds.
With some of the worst facilities in the AFL, the Bulldogs' new enhanced partnership with its community will allow it to compete with the multimillion-dollar developments boasted by AFL Victorian powerhouses Essendon and Collingwood.
The Whitten Oval's redevelopment is due to begin next year with completion expected in 2007.
The Bulldogs are understood to have joined forces with the Howard Government and received the multimillion-dollar funding on the grounds that the new facilities would tackle such issues as obesity, a shortage of child care and specialist medical facilities in the region, along with a series of youth and other social and sporting services.
The state and local government contributions, along with the $3.5 million promised by the AFL, was contingent upon the Federal Government's commitment, which is believed to have been resolved in the past few days.
Today's announcement, a key component of Mr Howard's Thursday campaign diary, will be attended by AFL chairman Ron Evans and chief executive Andrew Demetriou. Bulldogs chairman David Smorgon and key members of the senior playing list will also be attending.
The Bulldogs' historic achievement also appears to have not only guaranteed the club's survival, but also anchored it in Victoria despite the club's ongoing commitment to a home game in Sydney and one in Darwin next season, dispelling constant rumours of relocation.
It also comes as two other struggling Victorian clubs are striving to complete their searches for permanent new homes.
The Kangaroos now look certain to leave Arden Street and hope to reach a ground-sharing agreement with Carlton at Optus Oval over the coming months while Melbourne will hold talks with the Melbourne Cricket Club and the Olympic Park Trust in a bid to leave Junction Oval.
The Demons want to anchor themselves near the MCG and share the Olympic Park precinct with Collingwood. The Magpies' state-of-the art new training and administrative facility, the Lexus Centre, opened in July.
The Whitten Oval redevelopment has been the brainchild of the Bulldogs' chief executive Campbell Rose.
Since 2002 the Bulldogs have been relying on seven-figure annual handouts from the AFL.
Already the club has received $2.5 million and in November the league will forward a further $1.5 million to the Bulldogs which, before taking the AFL money into account, will lose more than $2.2 million this year.