Football South Coast's dream of a "home of football" is in tatters after the proposed West Dapto development missed out on more than $15 million in funding yesterday.
In a cruel double blow, the region's governing body was informed almost simultaneously it would not be receiving funding from the Illawarra Infrastructure fund or the federal government for the project.
After earlier receiving a $7.4 million allocation of funding under Labor's Regional Development Australia Fund, the West Dapto development failed to be approved under the Coalition's new Community Development Grants Program.
The new Coalition government agreed to honour contracts of several projects in earlier funding commitments. However, the "home of football" missed out because the contracts had not been signed.
To compound the decision, Football South Coast's application to receive a $7.8 million share of the $100 million Port leasing Illawarra infrastructure fell short of the final list.
Football South Coast had hoped to secure at least one of the grants to get the ball rolling on the dream development, which would address the region's pressing need for an elite playing facility and potentially provide the training base for a future A-League franchise.
Football South Coast chief executive Ann-Marie Balliana admitted the blow was a kick in the teeth after months of hard work.
"We are extremely disappointed. With all the work that we put into the submission, we're aware that it is a very competitive process and there are a lot of good products, but we really thought football's time had come," Balliana said.
"Not only addressing some of the problems we have now but looking towards the future and the potential that our project had."
Football South Coast's dream project was beaten to the Port lease funding by a list of health, transport and technology-based projects.
Balliana said it was disappointing to see the lack of sporting projects on the final list.
"We are such sporting fans and the benefits that sport brings in terms of not only social inclusion, but the economic benefits of the events and tournaments we could have had," Balliana said.
"To me that was a big gap in the products I have seen.
"We encourage our kids to get involved in sport, but to me it was a real gap in the final project list."
Football South Coast will still hold on to the 20 hectares of land available for sporting fields in the West Dapto residential development but, without funding, very little can be done to start the project.
"It is a holding pattern now until we see what comes available," Balliana said.
"We will continue our discussions at all levels of government, whether that be Wollongong council, state government or federal government.
‘‘We need to continue to be proactive about our next steps.
‘‘We don’t want to continue to sit by and wait for an opportunity to come up.
‘‘We want to figure out how we can be proactive to meet the objectives that we think will be of benefit for the whole region.’’
While West Dapto will remain the end goal for Football South Coast, Balliana admitted they made need to address some of sport’s immediate needs.
‘‘We will need to regroup. I think we will need to look at both
short and long-term strategies,’’ she said.
‘‘I don’t think we can just sit by and wait for four or five years for West Dapto to happen.
‘‘We need to look at something now to support our elite teams and football in general. It has to be a two-pronged approach.’’
With a new regional fund expected in the new year, Football South Coast could have the chance to renew its cause soon.
Balliana was adamant the football community would refuse to give up on their long-held dream.
‘‘We are not going to stop the fight, we are going to continue,’’ Balliana said.
‘‘We are a resilient bunch. We are not going to stop until we get that infrastructure that we feel we deserve and is good for the region."