Tony Cochrane has a reputation as a straight-shooting, fast-talking, can-do guy who won’t take no for an answer. The widely respected head of London-based entertainment consulting company IEC, charismatic showbiz entrepreneur and mastermind of the V8 Supercars phenomenon could choose to live anywhere in the world… but he lives here on the Gold Coast simply because, like so many of us, he loves the lifestyle.
Of course this makes ‘TC’ – passionate chairman of the Gold Coast’s Suns AFL club – the perfect fit for this series of think-tank articles that serve to inspire people and help define a direction for our great city.
It has been said that Tony Cochrane can be all feather and finesse, or sledgehammer and sharpened saw when conducting a deal. It’s absolutely true: he once stayed at Frank Sinatra’s office for a week in his successful bid to entice the late, great “Ol’ Blue Eyes” to return to Australia after he swore he’d never visit our shores again.
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Some said at the time that swaying Sinantra from his self-imposed exile just couldn’t be done – such was the strength of the great man’s resolve – but they hadn’t factored in Cochrane’s own powerful determination.
In fact, so impressed was the legendary crooner, he affectionately labelled the former Angels roadie “The Kid”, and returned once more with Sammy Davis Jr and Liza Minelli.
“Tony Cochrane is a man of influence,” says Gold Coast restaurant revolutionary Simon Gloftis, who is deservedly credited with leading the re-emergence of our city as a genuine destination for discerning diners. “Tony is someone who is not afraid to voice his opinion and he’s passionate about the changes that need to take place to ensure the Gold Coast can truly have a presence on the world stage. He’s got a lot of passion – and amazing foresight.”
Interviewing the fast-thinking Suns chairman against the beautiful backdrop of Burleigh beach, at the invitation of Gloftis, is equally as entertaining as it is exciting.
He doesn’t hold back.
“What we need is a Minister for the Gold Coast,” declares Cochrane. “Someone who encourages new ideas rather than regurgitates them. The fact is that we now live in the shadow of Brisbane – we have to break away from that Brisbane nexus and address the fact that whenever our city needs something, we have to go cap-in-hand begging to George Street. This city deserves serious muscle around the Cabinet table – we need to be able to cast our own net and visualise the dichotomy of everything that makes the Gold Coast a really cool place.
“Sure we have beaches, but so does everywhere else – we also have a great lifestyle, strong tourism, world-class education and healthcare, national sporting teams and entertainment.”
There are many issues to be addressed as the Gold Coast prepares to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games, in particular effective and sustainable infrastructure like transport and large-scale venues, as well as a serious review of the way the city markets itself nationally, and internationally.
“We’re kidding ourselves saying we are Australia’s events capital and that we are giving Melbourne a run for its money,” he says. “We are not a capital city, we are the Gold Coast – the Miami of Australia, not a New York or Los Angeles. It’s true, we are unique in many respects but there are so many other destinations around Australia and the world where tourists can go. We need to stop ignoring professional advice.”
And the airport? “Look at places like Amsterdam…or for that matter, Townsville or Cairns. What we’ve got here is a tin shed – it’s the first thing people see when they fly in, and the last thing they see when they fly out … drenched because we don’t even have aerobridges!”
To be fair, adds Simon, the bridges are coming.
“But they’re not here now – and you know, there’s not one good reason why the Gold Coast does not have a cruise ship terminal. Just imagine the economic boost if we have 20 big boats a year dropping 1500 tourists in town – we should be a major cruise ship destination like Miami and Fort Lauderdale but the minority groups are running the agenda.
“Honestly, look at the survey that found 78 per cent of people were in favour of a cruise ship terminal, and then there’s the 22 per cent who still can’t come up with a valid reason why it should not happen.”
And Brisbane’s cruise ship terminal redevelopment? “Please!”
Cochrane also expresses dismay at the missed opportunity to build a 10,000-seat venue on the Coast as a legacy of the Commonwealth Games.
“Some call ourselves the events capital of Australia but we haven’t even got a venue to stage a concert for a quality international act. What we have got are two 5000-seat stadiums being built right next to each other at Carrara and one already at the Convention Centre – but the capacity is too low for them to draw quality acts like the ones going to Sydney and Brisbane. Who is doing the bigger thinking? Thankfully, (Mayor) Tom Tate gets it – but he needs lots of support.”
Asked about the proposed Evandale Cultural Precinct, Cochrane is hesitant.
“We need to spend our money wisely,” he says. “The current plan makes me a bit nervous – I’m concerned it’s not a big enough space.”
No-nonsense Cochrane, of course, is not new to rattling his sabre in the corridors of power – he’s doing exactly that as an AFL visionary and chairman of our Gold Coast Suns. He’s now spearheading a push to join Port Adelaide in forming a closer relationship with China by staging training camps and playing a competition round in Shanghai.
“I admire Port Adelaide enormously for raising the bar in this respect,” he says. “It’s courageous and exciting. We most certainly want to be the side the plays them there when it happens – the Gold Coast has direct flights to and from China and the tourism is starting to come through in waves. We can’t afford to that for granted – we need to capitalise on what is a great opportunity.”
It would be remiss not to mention the business acumen of the Suns chairman, who purchased the Australian Touring Car Championships in 1996 for $52,000, and turned it into a $305 million sporting empire with feature races like the Clipsal 500 and Sydney 500.
On the day of our chat, V8 Supercars had just announced it would drop the V8 from its brand, and eventually allow six-cylinder vehicles to vie for the championship.
“You know I left the organisation four years ago now and I still have some good friends there,” Cochrane admits. “But I do not understand that strategy at all. They’ve taken a globally recognised name and removed the one thing that makes it truly aspirational. Fans love the loud, noisy V8 engines – taking away the V8 ruins the aspirational aspect of the sport and potentially digs it into a quagmire from which they might get bogged.
Today, Cochrane heads the Suns and he says he is finding great collaborative support from Gold Coast Tourism and accommodation houses, who are helping to encourage people from the southern states to come and stay and play on the Gold Coast for a minimum of a long weekend, enjoying the football, the beaches, the dining and everything else the city has on offer 365 days a year.
But he says the expense and convenience of staging major sporting events on the Gold Coast needs to be addressed.
“Did you know that at the moment it costs more money per head to run Metricon Stadium at Carrara than it does to run the Melbourne Cricket Ground? That’s because the State Government has control. We must be the world capital of expensive stadiums.”
And then there’s access to transport…“The parking at Metricon will improve marginally in time for the Commonwealth Games but the long-term solution is a light rail spur line from Broadbeach out to the stadium,” he says. “I mean, really, why isn’t this happening yet? We’ve got major sporting events in two years time and it’s got the potential to be disastrous if people can’t even get there on time.”
Of course dining is also part of the big-picture ‘dichotomy’.
“To be honest we have five or six fantastic restaurants here on the Gold Coast – such as The Fish House, Fellini, Hellenika, Palazzo Versace… and then we fall off a cliff,” he says. “It’s slowly changing but gone are the days of the 70s and 80s when the tourists come, eat and then we push them out the door – they want a broader experience, like Aspen.”
Which brings us to Simon Gloftis, whose intricate research and proven ability to identify and then successfully fill gaps in the culinary market are unquestioned. He has just returned from a three-week study tour of Europe and China, fine-tuning his next venture.
Everyone who knows you knows you are working on something – are we there yet?
“I’m closer,” he says with a grin. “I’ll let you know when.”
This article was authored by Shane Watson and originally appeared in Ocean Road Magazine. It has been republished with permission.