Stu Taggart is the man charged with taking Wollongong to the world.
The Sydney businessman has recently been appointed CEO of Wollongong 2022, the body which will oversee the delivery of cycling's 2022 UCI Road World Championships to be held in our city from September 18-25, 2022.
The 45-year-old will soon relocate his family to Wollongong as he sets about working with stakeholders and the community to deliver the biggest sporting event the Illawarra has seen.
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"The world's eyes will be on Wollongong and it's a great opportunity for us to shine," Taggart said this week.
"I think the dimension of the event and its global relevance needs to be communicated to people within the local community. We need to realise the world's eyes will actually be on us for the eight days in and around this event. So let's take advantage of that, both locally but internationally.
"Ultimately this is where some of the longer term cycling tourism opportunities come down. We want people to be watching this event going 'Wow, I want to come to Wollongong and I want to experience what I've just seen'."
The championships are considered one of the world's largest annual sporting events and attract an enormous global audience. It's anticipated the event will be viewed by 250 million people in front of screens across the world and attract 1.5 billion social media mentions.
The world's best men's and women's cyclists will be in town for over a week with a supporting cast of officials, sponsors and team members estimated to be around 5000 strong. It's only the second time the championships, considered to be the world's most prestigious cycling event, have been held in Australia. The other occasion was Geelong in 2010.
Taggart, a self-confessed "recreational cyclist", said he had received a warm welcome from the Wollongong community.
Aside from being asked where he intends to live - "I've learnt it's a parochial community" he says with a smile - Taggart said the most common question he gets is about the scale of the event.
"People are also really, really interested in the size and breadth and scale of the event, wanting to understand more," he said. "People want to know how they can come and support: How can I help? How can I get behind the delivery of the event?'. So to have that enthusiasm and curiosity at this point is great."
Taggart reports to a high-powered board of Wollongong 2022, headed by Dean Dalla Valle, a Wollongong local and CEO of Australian freight giant Pacific National.
His role will be to manage and facilitate the event, working closely with cycling's governing body the UCI, the NSW government's Office of Sport, Destination NSW and Wollongong City Council.
Taggart said his desire was to "create a week-long cycling festival across the region", creating life-long memories for people and a positive economic impact for local business/economy.
"It has to be a community-led event," he said. "We need the community to be right behind it to achieve the best success. So I'm really focused on getting into the community over the next 12 months, particularly, as we start to really get into the detailed planning and what it means to the community.
"We want to be delivering a world-class event and we want to be delivering a festival around that event."
In tandem, the event will help facilitate council's Wollongong's Cycling Strategy 2030 and part of the legacy of the event is Wollongong will become Australia's first city to gain UCI Bike City status, an honour which is only afforded to 16 cities around the world joining places such as Copenhagen, Glasgow, Paris and Vancouver.
"We're working hard to align with the council's cycling strategy and a big part of that is the future of tourism around cycling within that mix, so that's important," he said.
"There's also the innovation component of the event; we want to be seen to be innovating, bringing best practice in that space. And the one that's really important is the community legacy that sits around it. A big one is that UCI Bike City status, I think that's a tangible recognition through the international federation and international cycling community as well."
With thousands of people set to descend on the region for the event, he said it was important local businesses understood the potential opportunity.
"I've been exploring around how we engage with the local business community as well to help educate about things like opening hours, what kind of food they are serving, and the countless number of countries people are coming from," Taggart said. "All these things need to be explained and so that people realise the sum of all parts and that they're open for business and ready to go."
He said the rolling out of community and school programs would take shape over the next 12 months.
The world's eyes will be on Wollongong and it's a great opportunity for us to shineWollongong 2022 CEO Stu Taggart
"We want to actively engage with that community, through the local schools," he said. "And we are also looking to develop a team of volunteers. The philosophy of the event is we're going to need somewhere between 1000-1500 volunteers."
Despite the fact the event is just over two years away, Taggart said part of the event planning already involved COVID-19 contingencies and how that might impact the event. He said postponing of the Olympics due to COVID-19 also provided a unique opportunity in that "hopefully we'll have the Olympic gold medallists and other medallists on our doorstep in 2022".
He said course planning was under way and would likely be revealed a year out from the event.
Taking Wollongong to the World
The new CEO of Wollongong 2022 comes to the role with a long background in Australian sport, working with the likes of Rugby Australia and Football Australia.
Stu Taggart's role as national venues manager for the Rugby World Cup in 2003 saw him spend time in the Wollongong community with games staged at WIN Stadium.
He was involved in establishing the events arm of Football Australia and was a part of Australia's bid to host the football World Cup.
In 2011, he formed his own business called Relevant Innovation.
"Within that business mix was the future of major events," Taggart said.
"So I've spent the last nine years essentially, before stepping into this role, examining major sporting events both domestically and internationally.
"When the opportunity came to work on this event what was really interesting to me was around the legacy it can provide to a community, as well as the excitement of a multi-day event.
"There are a lot of things that attracted me to the role.
"I'm really looking forward to delivering it."
Taggart, his wife Sophie and children Toby (14), Evie (11) and Max (soon to be 8) will move into the region later this year from Sydney.
"When I sat down, particularly with Dean the chair (of Wollongong 2022), and looked at the role and the opportunity, I knew if I was being true to the event, true to myself, I needed to be here full time with my family to deliver the best outcome for the event, myself and my family," he said.
He said the greatest potential of the event existed in the physical assets it could leave the city of Wollongong.
"It's rare to be able to work on an event where there's such a focus around some of those tangible infrastructure legacies," Taggart said.
"The exciting thing is it's linked to infrastructure for cyclists in the future.
"So all of those things combined to really spark my interest and I'm really excited about the opportunity."
He may only be a "recreational cyclist" himself, but one thing is very clear.
Taggart and the city of Wollongong are set for a hell of a ride over the next two years ahead of September, 2022.
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