Premier Kristina Keneally and Arts Minister Virginia Judge confirm a major arts facelift for Parramatta’s controversial development site.

Last Thursday’s highly anticipated announcement follows months of community uproar over the fate of the Old Kings School heritage buildings. The riverfront site became the subject of contention when the Bishop of Parramatta, Anthony Fisher, laid out the Catholic Church’s proposal to buy the land amid calls to keep it in public hands. Protests, a petition bearing more than 400 signatures, statements from high-profile local artists, and Facebook appeals rallied support for Council plans to restore the historic property for use as a community arts hub encompassing galleries and performance spaces.

The State Government’s decision to allow 88 per cent of the land to remain publicly owned, and to allot $24.6m in funding to the development of an extensive new arts and cultural precinct, has been well received by the community. The other 12 per cent has been sold to the Parramatta Diocese of the Catholic Church for $5.5m, with proceeds benefiting the site’s restoration.

Parramatta City Council Lord Mayor, Cr John Chedid, said he is pleased the arrangement accommodates both parties and that plans for a revamped arts and entertainment centre are full steam ahead. “Council has been campaigning for the site to be a leading creative arts hub for the past two years and this space will play a key role in our plans to revitalise areas along the river foreshore precinct,” he said.

“I’m also glad that a compromise between the State Government and the Catholic Church has been reached that will facilitate improved community services, while also ensuring the site can grow to become Western Sydney’s premier creative facility.”

The development project is set to be the largest investment in Western Sydney arts and culture undertaken since Parramatta’s Riverside Theatres opened in 1988 as part of a Bicentenary initiative.