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WAFL Sharks to shed crowd bar­ri­ers

Fremantle Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - Ben Smith

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.

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