As Canberra’s premier sports and indoor entertainment venue during its 39-year lifespan the AIS Arena, or ‘The Palace’ as it’s affectionately known, has hosted an array of events.
Since opening on 26 January 1981 it’s held sold out crowds for the Canberra Cannons back in the glory days of the 1980s right through to erupting in March this year when the UC Capitals won their back-to-back WNBL title.
AIS Arena has also hosted all kinds of world-class musicians like Whitney Houston, Blink-182, and Lady Gaga.
But despite the fond memories The Palace is no longer fit for general use, let alone royalty.
After $9.4 million of restorative work was undertaken in 2016 to rejuvenate the facility, The Australian Sports Commission (ASC) say more repairs are now required.
Having been closed since mid-March due to COVID-19 restrictions, The ASC announced on Monday 29 June they “do not anticipate” the AIS Arena will reopen in 2020.
“To minimise impact on customers, we are intending to cancel existing 2020 bookings and are not taking any new bookings,” an ASC statement read.
ACT sports minister Yvette Berry this morning told ABC Radio Canberra’s Breakfast the announcement came as a “complete surprise” to the ACT Government.
“The Federal Government knows that the facility the ACT has to deliver all kinds of different events and sports games … I just can’t say how disappointed I am,” she said.
“Of course, we’re going to have to talk with the community here in the ACT and sports organisations about alternative venues now that that site appears not to be available,” Ms Berry said.
The AIS Arena’s current major tenants are the UC Capitals and Giants Netball, the latter of whom were slated to play one game at the AIS Arena for the 2020 season.
During the WNBL season ‘The Caps’ split their home games between the AIS Arena and the National Convention Centre Canberra (NCCC).
UC Capitals general manager Lucille Bailie told Canberra Weekly the announcement has an “immediate and immense” impact on their business as they plan toward the 2020-21 WNBL season.
“It’s a major piece of our puzzle and planning that we have venues available to play matches, it has major implications,” she said.
“We’ve got a major logistical and operational issue.”
Ms Bailie said the Caps are “hustling and liasing” with the ACT Government, the WNBL and AIS Arena to find a solution.
“The NCCC is not just for basketball games so there’s limitation on it … we used to play in front of 100-200 people in Tuggeranong and Belconnen, but those days have long passed us by,” she said.
Ms Bailie said given the team is committed to playing in Canberra, now is an ideal time to talk about establishing a high-performance training and playing facility for the UC Capitals.
“Our business is so healthy, we’re winning, we’re overdelivering on government and sponsor return on investment … its entirely appropriate for us to say, ‘can we talk about a high-performance training and playing facility’,” she said.
“For us to continue playing world class basketball requires world class facilities.”