The newly-named Bridges function centre will have a soft opening on Monday, when those involved in bringing the project to life will gather to tick off another major step forward.
The new Gifford Hill racecourse development – which includes a state-of-the-art racetrack and function centre – is a landmark project for both South Australian racing and Murray Bridge.
Although Monday’s event is low key, it remains significant and acknowledges the growing sense of anticipation surrounding the multi-million dollar centre, according to long-serving Murray Bridge Racing Club secretary/manager John Buhagiar.
“It’s a soft opening, but it’s a starting point to display our event centre to people, and there’s certainly a good buzz around,” Mr Buhagiar said.
“I think it’s due to the fact that it’s been on the cards for a period, but we’ve been very patient in how it’s all been put together.
“People will be suitably impressed in regards to the function centre’s style and what it will be able to deliver. It will be the largest event and conferencing venue in regional SA, with a seating capacity of over 600 people for a single function.”
Acknowledging the Federal Government’s funding contribution to complete the building, Member for Barker Tony Pasin will officially open Bridges and said he was among those looking forward to seeing the new facility up and running.
“I secured $5 million from the Federal Government for the Gifford Hill project because we know that the project will provide economic uplift, jobs growth and business participation for the region,” he said.
“Local projects like this are vital for regional communities. I’m really excited to see the new facility off and racing, and the benefits flowing through to the Murraylands region.”
Gifford Hill will be officially opened – amid significantly more fanfare and additional dignitaries – in August, although the course will host its first race meeting in July.
The 800-hectare Gifford Hill racecourse development is adjacent the South Eastern Freeway, about 3km south of the current track.
Heading into Monday’s soft opening, Mr Buhagiar is summoning all his self-control to keep a lid on his enthusiasm.
“I’ve been managing the club since before the day we first said ‘How about we take our own future in our own hands’,” he said.
“And that’s what we did.
“It’s going to be very exciting, because it’s finally putting together all the ideas that we’ve had for so long.
“I’m excited about what we can achieve with the event centre, but also what we can bring to racing by having a brand-new venue that people would want to come to and be comfortable at.
“The view of the racecourse is just fantastic, it’s brilliant, plus there are all the comforts we can deliver as well.”
Looking forward to when the first horses start running on the new track, Mr Buhagiar said the racing surface itself was already in the “outstanding” class.
“We’re very confident in regards to the surface, because more often than not when racecourses are developed the turf seems to go in and the horses will be on it probably before the turf is 100 per cent ready,” he said.
“But we’ve had the luxury of time. We’ve been able to stolinise – or sprig – the turf and that’s the process of planting the turf into the ground, instead of laying it as flat slabs onto the ground.”
Monday’s soft opening, including the ribbon-cutting ceremony, will start from 10am. State Member for Hammond Adrian Pederick will also be in attendance.
Words by Paul Mitchell.