$50m upgrade plans for Eureka Stadium
Country footy fans are set to score a $50 million goal, with the State Government believed to have secretly committed to a new AFL-standard stadium in the goldfields city of Ballarat.
Premier John Brumby this week confirmed long-term plans to upgrade Eureka Stadium.
The suburban football ground would be transformed into a big multi-purpose venue in one of regional Victoria's fastest-growing areas, in the belief it can potentially host a handful of AFL games each season.
The North Melbourne Football Club is keen to play several home and away matches in Ballarat, given its partnership with the Ballarat City Council.
North Melbourne chief executive Eugene Arocca said the Roos could play interstate clubs there such as Western Sydney, Gold Coast, Fremantle and Port Adelaide.
"Ballarat has been on our radar for two years and we have been lobbying the Government to consider the possibility and the logistics of creating a regional-based stadium, particularly in Ballarat," Mr Arocca said.
But the State Government hopes other Victorian-based AFL clubs would be tempted to play several other games against low-drawing interstate teams at the proposed venue.
The Government had committed $1 million for an upgrade of Ballarat's Eureka Stadium to host NAB Cup pre-season matches.
But it now plans to build a new stadium that could potentially be used as a training base if Australia won the rights to host soccer's World Cup in 2022, as well as become a boutique base for some AFL matches.
It is believed Mr Brumby confirmed his commitment to the project at a private function this week.
A spokesman for the Premier confirmed the Government would not be opposed to the idea.
"The Government is always keen to support big events in regional Victoria," he said.
However, sources close to the Premier told the Sunday Herald Sun he had a long-term vision of turning the suburban football ground into a 15,000-seat stadium.
Mr Brumby faces an election in November and would hope his commitment to Ballarat would help his government's cause.
Mr Arocca said North Melbourne was committed to Ballarat.
He said the Kangaroos had held many meetings with Ballarat Council over the past two years about the prospect of bringing more AFL action to the city.
"We have spoken to the Mayor of Ballarat and the CEO and they are committed to creating a stadium that will accommodate somewhere between 10,000-15,000 fans," he said.
"I would think that, for an AFL match in season, you would need at least 15,000 (seats). You would need a level of comfort that members and supporters are used to in Melbourne.
"Obviously, it would be used for sporting activities in that region and I would presume it would include rugby or soccer."
The AFL welcomed the potential investment.
"We always welcome the support of football facilities throughout Victoria and particularly any future upgrade of the facility at Ballarat," a spokesman said.
"The proposed development would be a great boost for local football and would mean the ground could be considered as a possible option when deciding the fixturing of AFL games in the years beyond 2012."
Ballarat mayor Judy Verlin said she was delighted by the proposal.