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The Victoria Centre
as we know it
may never reopen

by Bob Alman
photographs as attributed
layout by Reuben Edwards
posted on April 15, 2020

New Victoria Centre opens to mixed reviews, 2007
Victoria Centre graces the the sport in Australia, 2007
12-court Centers open and flourishing, 2006
West Palm Beach Showcase Comes Alive, 2002
National Croquet Center Opening Previewed, 2001

A letter sent five days ago to all Croquet Victoria members, clubs and individuals by Jim Clement, president of Croquet Victoria, has warned of drastic responses to a financial debacle which has been building for a number of years. The situation has been known to many, warnings have been issued, plans laid--and all to no avail. Nothing has worked. The Centre will have to radically alter its methods of operation, if not close, even as both paid employees have been laid off and draconian solutions discussed, none of them very promising.

In addition to all the issues with draw-downs far exceeding income from the residual accounts following the old five-court facility in downtown Melbourne, a new issue plagues the huge "committee" charged with addressing these difficult issues.

Financing the comparatively huge 12-court centre was seen as a fortunate windfall--the sale of the downtown site at a high price for commercial development, as reported by Croquet World in the early part of the century, when both the National Croquet Center in West Palm Beach and the Victoria Center, with another 12 courts on the other side of the globe, were seen as "twin facilities" in some respects. Both were sufficient in size for expanded world championships.

The National Croquet Center was opened in May of 2002, following a very successful 80-player Golf Croquet World Championship. The Victoria Centre followed in 2006.

But the ten acres of the National Croquet Center came from a long-established plant nursery, while the Victoria site was built on a site where an ammunition factory had conducted operations for many years, leaving behind a poisonous topsoil. Recent legislation is requiring the removal of the top metre of that contaminated soil--which would be tremendously costly and disruptive for both the building and the 12 courts and other structures on the site.

Adding up all the elements, there is no clear way forward, because no one can predict what may or may not be required of the Victoria Association in the increasing clamor over "contamination."

Radical correctives already enacted

The first recommendations of the accountant have been adopted: obvious steps to limit the immediate outflow of funds--basically laying off the caretaker and administrator--but that only begins to address the financial woes of Croquet Victoria. These measures come at a convenient time, when all "non-essential" businesses and clubs and associations involving groups of people together have been banned for the duration of the global Covid-19 pandemic.

But much more will be required, as Australia and the world comes out of the global pandemic and restrictions are relaxed. The initial report of the Croquet Victoria Treasurer, Brian Rowe, appointed in February, pointed out in the starkest terms what has been known for many years: The Victoria Centre, having never operated anywhere close to break-even, has not been able to accomplish any of the significant financial goals set by the committee and in recent years has only expanded the short-fall, year after year.

At last, hit by Rowe's overwhelming 20-page report, the severity of the shortfall has been recognized. But no decisions have been made. That is to come later, as outlined by Clement at the end of his letter:

At the April 11 meeting of the Council, held via technology, the Council voted to:

  • declare all our employees redundant and pay out their entitlements;
  • mothball VCC, the future of which will have to be decided at a General Meeting of the association, at which the voting members will be the delegates of the thirteen Regions; and
  • in preparation for that General Meeting, engage a consultant to advise on the impact of the recent legislation making vendors liable for all clean-up costs associated with contaminated sites, applicable as VCC is built on an old ammunition factory site."
The essential factor appears to be the last item above, the recent legislation making vendors "liable for all clean-up costs associated with contaminated sites."

Whether some "grandfather" clause in the legislation or amendments would excuse Croquet Victoria from undertaking this huge and in fact lethal action is unknown.

We have requested fuller comment from the principals, but do not expect to achieve any more certainty than the Council themselves about the future of the Centre, until the meeting of all the 13 state representatives, and dependent on whatever actions and remedies they vote to enact. In the meantime, a consultant has been engaged to advise the council on what is likely to happen with regard to the legislation on correctives for the soil contamination.

When we have more news about Croquet Victoria, we'll report it here.

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