A multi-million dollar investment turns The Ville into Townsville’s self-sufficient destination venue.
The casino in Townsville has been a landmark and feature attraction of the North Queensland city for over thirty years since it first opened in 1986. Townsville doesn’t quite get over the line to qualify as ‘Far’ North Queensland, but it is 1350km north of Brisbane and for the original casino license to be granted in a city that wasn’t a state capital was quite a coup at the time. Over the decades since, until now you could say the casino in its various incarnations sat on its managerial hands and just enjoyed the business advantage that came with being the only venue that could offer traditional table gambling as well as gaming machines. Further investment in facilities and infrastructure was limited even after it changed hands to become Jupiters Casino. A result was that while plenty of people were gambling at the casino, there wasn’t a lot of support when it came to patronising the restaurants and bars. If you weren’t going to have a punt, you didn’t go there.
Then in 2014 along came Chris Morris and his Colonial Leisure Group which scribbled out a cheque for $70 million dollars to buy the joint and immediately promised to inject at least another $20 million into improving all aspects of the casino. Fast-forward another seven years and the result to date has been a well-planned $43 million makeover that’s transformed the lacklustre casino of old into a luxurious and spectacular five-star resort, business centre, and entertainment complex now known as ‘The Ville’.
The improvements and refurbishing are ongoing, and the latest project was to update an ageing ballroom and adjacent under-utilised spaces into a modern, multi-purpose performance and conference venue with an exclusive members’ room next door. As Cara Ewington, The Ville’s Conference Sales Manager, explains, “The space was originally The Ville’s Ballroom, a multi-purpose space that could be divided into one, two, or three meeting, conference, and event spaces. The Ballroom was built as a part of the original Sheraton Resort Casino in 1986. Although well maintained over the years, it was definitely due for an upgrade to align with the other recent refurbishments that the Morris Group has made to the resort.”
While a broad vision was provided by management, exactly what AV fit-out could be achieved within the existing structure, and more importantly what would be the best fit for both Townsville-based and tourist business clientele, needed precision thinking by someone with plenty of local expertise.
The opportunity came for Darryl Byrne and his crew at North Queensland Audio Visual (NQAV), supported by Australis Music Group, to start coming up with solutions—and they certainly did. The new Orpheus Room and Barrier Reef Room are a testament to the best of AV capability, function and simplicity.
If there was one result The Ville insisted upon with the refit, it was to create almost complete self-sufficiency and autonomy when it came to the production side of things. In other words, when everything was completed and the final battery was inserted into the last remote control, the resort didn’t want to find itself still outsourcing expensive PA, lighting and production equipment and personnel to make things happen. Every event large or small, with the latter albeit often being the norm, could be done—within reason—in-house and with minimal reliance, if any at all, on operators who weren’t staff or part of a client’s touring crew. This wasn’t a reflection on any practises prior to the refit, but a common-sense approach to the overall AV design. The new spaces were expected to be in constant use and there was scant risk of production equipment sitting idle for long periods of time. It would be a fully equipped, state of the art venue that incurred additional production costs on only rare occasions—like maybe Coldplay backing up the loading dock door.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
With these parameters in mind, Darryl Byrne and NQAV put a strong focus on a Crestron control system with significant network connectivity throughout the two spaces; the Orpheus Room being the new members’ area, and the Barrier Reef Room the revamped ballroom. The goal was that everything and anything could be controlled and run—by anyone.
As Darryl explains, “Simplicity is a core criteria of every one of our designs. Thinking about how a non-technical user will interact with the system is always being considered and often has the highest priority, sometimes even above the budget. So now, if you can use any app on your mobile phone, you can run the amazing facilities at The Ville’s Barrier Reef Room.”
Cara Ewington agrees, “Having self-sufficient technical capabilities in-house was definitely a priority for us when setting out designing the Barrier Reef Room and we feel that this has been achieved through working with NQAV. All of our banquets team have undergone training with the updated technology and are more than capable of operating the wealth of new features in the space. It’s vital that our clients have the smoothest experience possible when hosting events, and for them having one less vendor to work with for AV production needs provides them peace of mind that everything will go to plan.”
STARTING FROM (NEARLY) SCRATCH
It should be pointed out this was a major project by The Ville, meaning the building sections to be renovated were first completely gutted back to bare brick and timber before starting again from scratch, a contract awarded to Prime Building Australia. The NQAV team weren’t squeezing ladders besides a Blackjack game or running scissor lifts between the Roulette table and the gaming machines, upsetting any punters (for once a term used in its true sense). It did require close liaison between the various trades akin to a new construction, and it allowed for paying closer attention to the aesthetics of the installation. For example, Tannoy CMS Series in-ceiling speakers were chosen and placed to blend almost invisibly with the new overhead lighting and safety components, and when the PA subs for the Barrier Reef Room couldn’t be suspended due to a lack of clearance height, and the suggested “under the stage” position proved to be a basement, there was scope to ask Prime to build custom-made cabinets that complemented the new stage—no gaffered-together milk crates required.
GETTING IN THE ZONE
The Barrier Reef Room was given a lot more versatility, which is obviously a good thing that provides greater flexibility in its use. But that also demands more horsepower when it comes to the in-house PA system, which in turn raises the spectre of audio spill. A crucial aspect of the audio design throughout the ballroom and the Orpheus Room, be it a single microphone making an announcement, or heavy metal mayhem on the main stage, was to achieve tight zoning with the audio. When guests are seriously contemplating where to place a pile of chips—the expensive sort, not the potato variety—no one wants to be distracted by a meal ticket call at the other end of the room. The experts at Australis and the NQAV technicians put their heads together for a design that delivered perfect control. Inside the Orpheus Room the layout created six separate zones. A multitude of different configurations have been preset and loaded into the single 10-inch touch panel mounted on the wall, easily understood and operated by any of the staff, and that includes any of the installed Shure Wireless microphone sets or the BGM.
Inside the Barrier Reef Room, where loud concerts could cause grumbling amongst the rest of the casino, the main stage PA has that problem covered with a Turbosound Manchester Series line array using the MV212-XV components for the top boxes, with the ‘XV’ variant providing 10° of vertical dispersion for the deeper room (the MV212 has 5°) and those pesky subs are a pair of MS218 subwoofers. A pair of Lab Gruppen PLM 12K amplifiers make the loud stuff. Out front, a Midas M32 console with a Dante expansion module is connected to the stage with a Midas DL32 stage box. A full complement of microphones (including drum mics), stands, and four active monitors complete the rig.
The renovation enabled NQAV to ask for a new lighting truss to be installed. A total of 16 new intelligent lighting fixtures were hung out front and distributed on stage, with everything controlled by a Lightshark LS-1 lighting console. It’s a good balance between creating some rock ’n’ roll chaos, or a simple lectern special LX, and for most applications in between, again a 10-inch touchpad (or an iPad) can call up a variety of presets that cater for most day-to-day conference applications. That emphasis on simplicity for the client when it’s needed is always there.
No multi-function space would complete without video conferencing capability. Because the stage is so multi-purpose, a motorised rear projection screen is mounted above and can be taken out of harm’s way. Video distribution is via ethernet using a Crestron NVX, and every conceivable platform such as Teams, Webex and Zoom are all supported.
ON A ROLL
It was always going to be the case that The Ville would need a comprehensive list of requirements, and the project design was going take somewhat more than a rough sketch on the back of a Keno ticket. Darryl and NQAV laboured long and hard, continually consulting with the resort management, to come up with the best solutions. So, it’s surprising that when you ask Darryl what he feels was a stand-out result amongst the entire project, it comes back to the guests’ experience and that ease of use. “With a single USB-C cable and a PC, tablet or smartphone, you can easily control everything—room microphones, speakers, projector, lighting, camera, internet and even power… it doesn’t get simpler than that.”
Australis Music Group is definitely on Darryl’s Christmas card list. “You couldn’t ask for more from those guys. Australis has all the products you need, they get them to you as fast as they can, and if you need advice or technical support, you only need to pick up the phone and they’ll be there. From which patch cable to use, to complete system design, Australis is ready to help.”
The completion of the Orpheus Room and the Barrier Reef Room have added a great deal more appeal and attraction to The Ville, which was already very popular and a far cry from the original 1986 casino, making the resort and its restaurants and bars now the first choice for many Townsville folks. There’s the gaming, of course, and plenty of fun to be had too if you’re not the gambling sort.
Cara Ewington sums it up, “The Barrier Reef Room is a unique event space for Townsville. Hosting no more than 350 guests, the space is ideal for those looking for an intimate setting. It’s a first for the region and definitely provides the community with state-of-the-art audio-visual capabilities, in an architecturally designed space which provides audiences with a sense of luxury and opulence not before experienced in North Queensland.”
In every respect, The Ville has definitely become the place to go in Townsville.