The redevelopment proposals for Boggo Road were recently made public and I have already discussed the radical concept of opening up the prison as public space, but there are of course other aspects to consider. Like job creation. Or, as we say in Queensland, 'jobs, jobs, jobs' (™ Peter Beattie).
This is actually not something not mentioned too much in the marketing material for the proposals, and personally it's not something I'd list as a priority at any heritage site, but it is worth exploring further as 'job creation' is being used to defend the status quo at Boggo Road. So what are the facts?
Let's take the situation as it is now. Imagine it is Wednesday night at Boggo and maybe this week there's a night tour on. That's a 1.5 hour night tour. At an absolute maximum it would provide two hours work each for two people. Or maybe just for one person, as is often the case with these tours.
That's four work hours created by the tour, tops. And the rest of the site remains closed, empty, and redundant.
Now, imagine a Wednesday night under the new plans. What's taking place inside Boggo Road? There's a restaurant, busy as usual, with wait and kitchen staff. Each one working around six hours that evening. Maybe around six or seven or six staff. That's over 40 working hours right there. Just one restaurant instantly creates ten times more work than tours. Sad but true. Of course there could easily be two restaurants or coffee shops in the prison site, and unlike the tours, these businesses also boost the economy by purchasing ingredients and other supplies.
On top of that, there's the crucial fact that the restaurant gets repeat business, something the tours don't.
Then perhaps there's the wine bar, doing brisk trade. How many staff there on the long evening/night shift? Now imagine there's some live acoustic music going on, maybe a bit of theatre in one of the yards. More employment happening. Take all the above together and you go way, way beyond the two or four work hours created by the tour on that night, from single up into triple figures.
And the beauty of all this is that you can STILL have the tour taking place anyway.
As I said before, job creation should never be the raison d'être of any heritage site, but it is screamingly obvious that mixed use of Boggo would create much more ongoing work there. The place would, for the first time since it was decommissioned in 1989, provide meaningful levels of employment. This is despite Cameron 'Jack' Sim of ghost tours telling the state government that he would have created over 50 jobs at Boggo Road by now. That was a big call and the reality is that - at the very best - only a handful have been created. Two tours are scheduled per day, plus some night ones too, but you would struggle to create too many weekly work hours off the back of that.
There again, this is a person who once claimed to have 30 employees while he was running three or four ghost tours per week, weather permitting. Sharing a maximum of 16 weekly work hours (but often less) among 30 people makes Jesus' trick of sharing the loaves and fishes among the multitudes pale in comparison. This is not to denigrate anyone's work at Boggo right now, it's just a reminder to beware of rubbery figures.
|"Here's the new roster. We're having two tour guides per customer. So many jobs!|
But I'm going to have to pay you in fish."
Statistical realities aside, the problem with Boggo Road has always been the sporadic 'open-for-a-tour-and-then-close-again' use of the site. As Public Works minister Tim Mander himself said a couple of weeks back, "this site has basically lain dormant other than for a few tours which take place during the week." Leighton Properties (the developers) described the place as "a neglected and under-utilised public asset." Their new plans are designed to fundamentally change all that, maximising use of a greater area of Boggo Road. Having the place constantly busy while retaining the heritage aspects will 'finally awaken this sleeping giant of Brisbane tourism', as they say.
And there could be little doubt that it would always be busy under this proposal. The simple fact is that dining facilities, wine bars and Arts and entertainment events will create much more patronage, revenue and work for Boggo Road than History activities alone could. Having something like a coffee shop or any other hospitality facility inside an actual cellblock or exercise yard would be a consistently massive drawcard, especially when partnered with a dynamic programme of Arts events, not to mention nearby markets and of course the history.
History will always be a massive aspect of Boggo, but revenue raised by historical activities should become far less critical under the new proposals. To my way of thinking, it would be fair to ask that revenue raised from other on-site activities could subsidise and strengthen the History side of things, allowing much more affordable (or even some free) tours and quality exhibits. There would then be real synergy between the joint attractions of history, arts and dining.
Anybody who wants to measure the success of Boggo Road by the criterion of job creation should welcome the new plans with open arms. And there’s no escaping from that fact.