Melbourne Victory’s ambitious bid to build a soccer academy in Footscray Park appears doomed after an advisory panel and Maribyrnong Council staff recommended the proposal be dumped.
The $18 million soccer academy mooted for the western edge of the park was initially included in an updated draft master plan for Footscray Park, but a vocal backlash to the idea prompted an about-face from councillors and council staff earlier eager to pursue the plan.
Hundreds of Maribyrnong residents lodged submissions both for and against the club’s plans to build three new floodlit pitches in the park, along with changerooms and undercover stadium seating for 600 spectators, in exchange for a 21-year lease.
Supporters said the area was crying out for football facilities, particularly for women and girls, but objectors argued the proposal was inappropriate for public open space.
Melbourne Victory said the site was chosen due to its proximity to the club’s headquarters at AAMI Park and to Victoria University and other community partners.
They said the club opened dialogue with Maribyrnong council after the club sought expressions of interest for the academy in 2015.
The state government has already promised $10 million towards the project.
Councillors voted in August to establish a Community Advisory Panel to review the proposal, provide future options for Footscray Park and to report back these findings to the council.
The panel reported back to the council on Tuesday, unanimously rejecting the soccer academy, instead proposing that Council implement its existing 2011 Footscray Park Masterplan.
The 12-person panel included five community elected representatives, all aligned with the Save Footscray Park group.
Group spokeswoman and panel member Sharon Schwab said the panel wanted to encourage greater use by both the community and local sporting groups on a regular basis.
“Changing part of a public park to single use for soccer only for at least 21 years is a very serious decision with long-term consequences for our community,” she said.
A report to next Tuesday night’s City Development council meeting notes that the panel recommended that the western playing area should be improved for formal and informal community, sport and recreation uses.
“It is recommended that the Footscray Park Masterplan Update 2019 not proceed any further and that Council continue with the 2011 Footscray Park masterplan,” it states.
“It is recommended that Council prepare a new sports strategy focusing on increasing female and youth participation in sports and recreation.”
The report recommends the council “ thank Melbourne Victory Football Club for their efforts and support for football in Maribyrnong and continue to investigate other opportunities to further football participation.”
Councillors are due to cast their vote on the matter on Tuesday night.