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For some, at least, the global financial crisis has a silver lining. In its attempts to keep the economy stimulated, the Federal Government is supporting infrastructure projects around the country, and at an Extraordinary Meeting of Council last week, the Italian Forum Cultural Centre was given the nod as Council’s nominated Strategic Infrastructure Project, for a federal grand in excess of $1 million.

But it wasn’t all plain sailing for the Centre, with only late information – submitted the day before the meeting – tipping the balance over the alternative nominees, an upgrade of Weston Street in Balmain and implementation of the Lambert Park Master Plan.

Greens Councillor Cassie Plate described the Cultural Centre submission as an “extraordinarily strong project”.

“I really feel it would help change the culture of this area,” she said. “Norton Street’s getting a bit of criticism lately – people feel it’s a strip of drinking holes, they’ve noticed a lot of late-night violence.

“I think it’s the most likely project to be supported by the Federal Government.”

Labour Councillor Lyndal Howison said she believed the rejection of the Weston Street upgrade in the previous round of infrastructure grants made it less likely to be approved on the second round.

With two Greens councillors absent, the vote passed with the support of four Greens and two Labor councillors, plus independent John Stamolis. Voting against the Cultural Centre were the three Liberal councillors.

Liberal Councillor Gordon Weiss cited his preference for Lambert Park, but nevertheless admitted he had concerns the application would not meet the Federal Government’s criteria. He said he had concerns about the Italian Forum’s lack of a business plan at the present moment.

The promise of a professionally-developed business plan was a key factor in the Cultural Centre gaining Council’s approval for the nomination.

General Manager of the Italian Forum Cultural Centre, Monica Scagliarini, said the project was becoming more exciting every day.

“We are witnessing a huge interest from the community… We will manage this place so that the huge demand coming from the community will be satisfied,” she said.

Cultural Centre board member Pino Scuro said that interest in the Centre was increasing as word got out about the quality of the facilities on offer.

“Anybody who sees the theatre wants to use it,” he said.

The Centre’s General Manager, Monica Scagliarini, said Federal Government funding would allow the Centre to become commercially self-sufficient.

“The areas we will achieve with the completion of the project will be the commercial areas that will allow us to get that important stream of revenue, that will allow us to subsidise the cultural programs,” she said.

The Centre has already hosted a concert by leading vocal ensemble the Song Company, who chose the venue specifically because of its acoustics and technical capacity, as well as the Orange Grove School’s musical and an exhibition by local art school ‘Art Est.’ Upcoming events include a concert by the Sydney College Choir, a photography exhibition, the Leichhardt Chamber of Commerce Gala Dinner, and ‘Blue Jam’, an annual one-day music festival organised by acclaimed Italian-Australian singer Nadia Piave.

“This is just the beginning,” Ms Scagliarini said.

by Gareth Narunsky and Shant Fabricatorian