Billionaire James Packer has labelled Penrith one of the “key centres of Sydney” and says he plans a partnership with the city and Panthers much larger than the $10 million commitment announced earlier this month to build a Crown training facility.
The training facility, which will be similar to the in-house Crown College in Melbourne, will boast a hotel and food academy, as well as a school of business. It comes as a new step in Mr Packer’s plans towards building a VIP casino and luxury resort at Bangaroo.
Speaking with The Western Weekender, Mr Packer said Panthers General Manager of Rugby League, Phil Gould, became the key factor in the initial commitment to Penrith.
“Crown has been looking at setting up our Sydney College in the west for some time now, when we saw the plans that Phil Gould and the Panthers had for their community centre, we knew it was a perfect fit and approached them,” he said.
“I have known Phil and (Panthers CEO) Warren Wilson for a long time, they are impressive administrators and their plans for the region are very exciting. I feel confident working with them and know they will deliver a very high quality facility.”
Mr Packer said the training facility will run in a similar fashion to the successful Melbourne version.
“For Crown, this is a very big step,” he said.
“At Crown Melbourne, we operate a $10 million College where we train all our staff to the high levels required for the luxury tourism industry. We have already trained 4,300 apprentices and trainees at Crown College and if we are successful with Crown Sydney, we will put in place the same programs in Penrith.”
But Mr Packer’s newfound love for Penrith is unlikely to end with the training facility. The former media mogul said he has further plans to invest in the region.
“The agreement we have drafted with Panthers talks about a larger partnership on training and skills development,” he said.
“We will certainly help train Panthers staff at our facility and will attempt to establish a Western campus of the highly successful National Centre of Indigenous Excellence (NCIE) on the site. Most people forget that the largest urban population of Indigenous Australians is in western Sydney – I know the Panthers are extremely excited about partnering on these Indigenous employment programs.
“By setting up our main training college in Penrith, we are setting our sights on this community and western Sydney as our main source of employment for Crown Sydney. If we set up strong partnerships with local schools, we can give students apprenticeships and traineeships in hospitality from Year 10, helping them to stay on at school and get a long term job.”
Whilst some controversy has surrounded Mr Packer’s plans for his Bangaroo casino and resort, he told the Weekender that he’s excited about what it will ultimately become.
“When you see what our resorts have achieved in Perth and Melbourne it gives you an understanding of what we can do for Sydney,” he said.
“I want this city to get back the title as one of the world’s best destinations – our resort will help do that, attracting millions of tourists from across the globe.
“I have moved out of media and now most of my work is in the tourism and entertainment business. We are trying to build a global luxury resort business to take advantage of the booming Chinese and Asian middle class. Australia has a once in a lifetime opportunity with Asia and it can’t just be about mining. We need to be selling education, financial services, e-commerce and tourism to Asia. If we get it right as a country, all Australians can benefit with jobs and increased quality of life.”
Panthers Chairman, Don Feltis, said Mr Packer’s involvement with the club opened up “unlimited future possibilities”.
“I applaud the vision of our leaders and senior management at Panthers for making this happen and turning dreams into reality,” Mr Feltis said.
“The vision, profile and commitment of Crown and James Packer will enhance the development and infrastructure of Panthers and the City of Penrith.”
So, with this new involvement in Penrith, can we expect to see Mr Packer out at Centrebet Stadium this year?
“The one thing I know about Phil Gould is that he will never stop trying until I get to a game,” he said.
“I really enjoy rugby league, but with young kids I rarely get to games. It was good to meet with some of the players and Ivan Cleary out at Panthers recently, they were very supportive of what we are trying to achieve and I’ll be following their progress keenly this season.”
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