Port Stephens Council will proceed with plans for a $3 million koala hospital and tourism facility.
Councillors endorsed the plans unanimously but only after the plans were subjected to an extensive feasibility study.
The study found it would not only be financially sustainable – safeguarding the vulnerable species for years to come – it found it would be profitable.
The tourism component alone is expected to generate $675,000 a year and provide a $345,000 uplift in accommodation bookings.
The council now plans to bring the $3 million facility online as soon as March 2018 preferably with grant funding but could proceed without it.
“The council has been very thorough in this review,” Port Stephens Koalas project manager Ron Land said.
“From the very outset Port Stephens Koalas understood it had to stand on its own feet and that it was no good if it ran out of money in six months.
“We’re very pleased this has been tested – extensively – and it means we can move ahead with these plans to care for our sick koalas.”
Port Stephens Council launched the $64,000 feasibility study in April 2016 with a pledge that Port Stephens Koalas (then known as Hunter Koala Preservation Society) would contribute $200,000 to the build costs.
Of this, $124,000 was sourced from the state government’s Stronger Communities fund, with the help of Port Stephens MP Kate Washington.
The council engaged external auditors PKF to review some underlying assumptions about building the facility at Treescape Holiday Park. It compared figures the council obtained on visitor numbers to Oakvale Farm and Fauna World located at Salt Ash, and Port Macquarie Koala Hospital – both having annual patronage of 80,000.
PFK found the council’s numbers added up when it forecast 45,000 visitors annually, each paying $15 entry.
The council’s property services section manager Glenn Bunny recommended the facility for approval in his report to councillors.
“The concept facility is ultimately a self-sufficient business model that will deliver the environmental, social and economic benefits detailed in the business case,” he said.
Three funding models in order of the council’s preference are:
- $2.8 million through the state government’s Regional Growth, Environmental Tourism Fund and $200,000 for Port Stephens Koalas.
- $1.5 million through the federal government’s Building Better Region’s Program, with $1.3 million in Port Stephens Council funds and $200,000 from Port Stephens Koalas.
- $2.8 million from Port Stephens Council and $200,000 from Port Stephens Koalas.
The PKF audit notes that the council is waiting on word on its grant applications in June-July to determine which funding model it will pursue.
“This is potentially the biggest play in terms of koala protection Australia as seen yet and it will attract worldwide attention,” Mr Land said.
“A $3 million commitment is a huge vote of confidence in our vision.”
Port Stephens is one of the last remaining koala populations on the east coast of Australia.
Experts estimate their numbers might be as high as 1200 or as low as 250.
Port Stephens Koalas has recorded 50 deaths a year on average for the past three years. The facility would incorporate rehabilitation and breeding facilities along with research and tourism.