FREE FOR ALL
WAFL Sharks to shed crowd barriers
EAST Fremantle will throw open its gates for WAFL games under a bold new plan to open up their ground to the public.
In a WAFL first, the football club has committed to taking down the fences surrounding New Choice Homes Park as the longawaited redevelopment of the East Fremantle Oval precinct reaches a new phase.
The precinct, which includes the Sharks’ home ground and accompanying grandstand and administration centre, is set to be revitalised as a community facility as part of the local council’s planned redevelopment, which has reached the schematic design stage.
With extensive consultation revealing strong support for upgrades to club facilities, more passive recreation space, and increased access to sports and recreation activities, Sharks’ chief executive Todd Shimmon (pictured) said they fully supported a community-first approach to the precinct.
He pledged the club would take down the fences once redevelopment was complete and, in a WAFL first, not charge general admission spectators unless it was for a finals or AFL pre-season game.
That could occur in three years, Mr Shimmon said.
Under the plan, the club would retain a restricted members-only zone at the ground. Paying club members would be able to access the grandstand, but the public would be able to sit on the grass banks and watch without paying.
“We’ve had to change our strategic plan about how we do things and the perception of us was that we were a closed club and no one could get in,” Mr Shimmon said.
“Our concept plan at the moment is actually taking down the fences in the new set-up. We can put them up for big games, but the idea is to try and welcome the community in and to make sure they’re part of the facility.”
Mr Shimmon welcomed the push for shared facilities that would bring all nearby clubs under one roof and agreed increasing public access would benefit all.
“We’ve had to change a lot of things inside our club to make sure we fit in with the community and I think the community has seen that,” he said. “We’re trying to embrace that we are a true sports community club.”
The West Australian Football Commission receives none of the gate money collected at WAFL games and as such, did not have a formal position on free entry. But the WAFC will discuss the proposal with the club.
The Sharks’ current facilities would be refurbished as part of the redevelopment and Mr Shimmon said they were hopeful funding would be forthcoming before the end of this year.
“We want to get working with the Town to hopefully secure State funding by the end of the year,” he said.
“This precinct has been talked about for 20 years; it’s certainly the first, second and third priority on the Town of East Fremantle’s list. It’s the highest priority for us and all the other sporting organisations part of it, and the community is screaming for the precinct to be upgraded.”
Mr Shimmon said the club had made great strides in connecting with the community over the last few years and they wanted to see the precinct blossom.
“You could have a men’s shed, these little areas for passive recreation, a walking track, a riding track, a place where you can walk your dog, you could come down and probably do 10 different options for sport or recreation,” he said. “The idea is that we’ve actually got common uses, and we don’t leave facilities sitting, not doing anything, for four or five days of the week.”
The Town of East Fremantle is running workshops at the Town Hall to solicit community feedback on its plans.
Residents are invited to attend the events on September 23 from 3.30-5pm and 5.30-7pm, and on October 14 from 3.30-7pm.
To RSVP, visit the Town’s website or call their community engagement co-ordinator.