Lions look to Ipswich

SPRINGFIELD is now ground zero in the battle of the AFL and NRL as the Brisbane Lions step up the search for their new training and administration home.

The Lions have called for Expressions of Interest (EOI) from land owners and managers in south-east Queensland as they look to develop a multi-million dollar elite sport and community facility away from the Gabba, which will remain their home game venue.

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The Springfield Land Corporation together with the Ipswich City Council have been involved in discussions with the Lions since mid 2011 and remain firmly focused on bringing the AFL club to the Ipswich region.

A permanent move by the AFL club to Springfield would be a blow to the prospects of the Ipswich NRL bid that also plans to use Springfield for the same purpose.

Brisbane Lions communications manager, Dave Donaghy, confirmed the Lions interest in a move to a rugby league heartland.

"Springfield is certainly an area that interests the Brisbane Lions as it is a developing, growing area," Mr Donaghy said.

"At the moment we're talking to as many potential suitors as we possibly can. A whole range of parties have expressed an interest."

The Western Corridor will have its training facilities based initially at Brothers, but the bid team has held talks with Springfield Land Corporation about basing its academy and training field there in the long term. Bid team member Brad Wolens said was going to be "a real competition" between the codes.

"This is a strategic plan on behalf of the AFL to try and stay a step ahead of the NRL. It wants to get into the western corridor area and get established before the NRL bid comes to fruition," he said.

"The NRL needs to be mindful of the battle they are in for….and with the AFL we are battling against boot loads of money."

Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale, the Western Corridor NRL bid patron, said the Lions move has "put pressure on the NRL" to make sure the Western Corridor bid gets up.

"The Lions and the AFL see Ipswich as a prime growth area which is absolutely fantastic. If the NRL doesn't get its act together and see the potential of the western corridor, they'll miss out," he said.

"Springfield is one of the fastest growing areas in the country. We are seen as a rugby league town but there a lot of people that play Aussie Rules and the Lions have done their research. The AFL understands it is all about the fans, the juniors and the growth of the game."

Donaghy said the NRL bid team's interest in Springfield wouldn't have any effect on the Lion's final decision.

"First and foremost were just after the best facility for us wherever that is." he said.

"Ultimately, it's also about the best facility for the community, regardless of whether rugby league is there or not."

Western Corridor bid team chairman Steve Johnson said "the AFL has the time and funds to be very calculated and strategic."

"They have access to the same demographic figures as us and realise that without an NRL club in the corridor the battle to win the hearts and minds of the fastest growing population of kids will be made easier," he said.

"If we miss out now then the next generation of players and supporters, and importantly volunteers, will be AFL people and the rugby league heartland will no longer exist."

Figures are yet to be released on the proposed cost of the Lions' development but with Essendon well advanced on a $30 million relocation plan and Richmond's $20 million ME Bank Centre opening last year, the newest AFL club project would bring millions to the successful region.

The Lions have engaged international development consultant Coffey, who managed the ME Bank Centre development as well as the Melbourne Storm's move to AAMI Park, to oversee the relocation project.

The move away from the Gabba is part of the Lions strategic five year plan. Planning restrictions in the Gabba precinct mean a move away from site for day to day operations in inevitable.

Tenders for the development process close at the end of March.

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