‘Loved’ Christmas tree set to grow

LOVED: Geelong's floating Christmas tree. (James Collier)

Geelong’s floating Christmas tree could grow “bigger” after councillors this week agreed to spend $2.3 million on keeping it shining for five more years.

Council must now “make the tree better” given its public support and commercial benefit to Geelong, said tourism and events portfolio holder Ron Nelson.

Councillors voted on Tuesday night 9-1 in favour of funding the tree beyond 2018, with Cr Anthony Aitken alone in opposing the motion.

Mayor Peter Murrihy underscored council’s support, saying the tree was “loved by our community”.

Councillors backed the tree after a report to council earlier this year said 165,000 people “flocked” to see it last Christmas season.

The tree injected $17.3 million into Geelong’s economy over the two months, the report said.

“In a sign of the tree’s positive impact on the community, face-to-face and online surveys found that 97.3 per cent of visitors rated the tree as important or very important, while 92 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that they felt proud of Central Geelong during the Christmas program,” City Hall said.

“An independent economic impact and cost benefit analysis from 2016 said the tree produced a return-on-investment of 5.4 to one.”

Council would now “investigate further opportunities to modify and enhance the tree so it continues to attract high visitor numbers, including possible new mooring sites along the … waterfront,” City Hall said.

Cr Nelson backed the investigation despite initial misgivings about the tree as one of the councillors who voted in favour of establishing it while serving on Geelong’s previous council.

“I must admit I was concerned when the tree was initially proposed in 2014,” he said.

“But since then the investment has been well and truly justified. The tree has become an icon for Geelong, and gets us recognition on a national level.

“We now need to make sure we continue to make the tree better, whether that’s making it bigger, whether it’s more interactivity – whatever it might be. We should think creatively and stay open to all possibilities.

The tree created an “incredible vibe” for central Geelong, Cr Nelson said.

“I’m looking forward to it continuing for another five years, and I can’t wait for this year’s launch in around three weeks’ time.”

The tree could have to find a new site along the waterfront to make way for a ferry if a trial of regular services to Melbourne is successful. The trial will launch the ferry from an alternative site near Geelong’s Carousel to make way for the tree this Christmas.

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