RAS set to make a big killing

THERE’S no business like show business. But Simon Lyas believes you can go one better. He is the chief executive of the Royal Agricultural Society, appointed three months ago with the brief of maximising the potential of the 75-acre Claremont Showgrounds.

On New Year’s Eve, a performance by the band Killing Heidi will draw an estimated crowd of more than 10,000 to the revamped amphitheatre that has risen from the cinders of the old speedway track. That will be the first of many events, perhaps classical musical concerts and operas, as well as country and western, and some blockbuster spectaculars under negotiation.

The Royal Agricultural Society president, third generation dairy farmer Lou Giglia, points out that, the more money that can be raised by the new initiatives, the more that can be spent on the society’s prime objectives.

Simon Lyas has a 20-year record in the leisure industry of getting people through the gates. His last job was managing Underwater World at Hillary’s, where he oversaw a $2.7 million development of its conference centre and seal pool.

“I have swapped the ocean for the land” says Mr Lyas.

“We are studying almost limitless possibilities at the Showgrounds, from open air cinema and sports events under the excellent stadium lights, to large scale exhibitions which will attract people from all over the state, and perhaps neighbouring Asian countries.”

The challenge for Lyas and his 40 staff is to have the venue open for profitable business virtually the year around instead of the present 60 per cent utilisation.

Before any farmers reach for their shotguns, there is no intention of usurping the agricultural focus of the facility. Traditions are just too strong. It was in 1896 that the government granted the Royal Agricultural Society its tract of bush land. In the early days, livestock was transported to Claremont by rail and then walked to the grounds. In a good year, the organisers expect up to 500,000 people at the September show. This was not a good year. The one-off combination of the Olympic Games and the GST sheared 80,000 off the number to 367,000. However, the show bags to sheepdogs concept is as popular as ever, and the target is to get attendance up to 600,000 by the centenary show.

The society’s charter is surprisingly wide, embracing not only the encouragement of agriculture and horticulture, but also assisting in the development of the industrial, technological, commercial and mineral resources of the State.

Who knows? The government might consider kicking in some dollars to help the expansion plans of a unique venue to promote the best in the West.

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