By Evelyn Leckie

CITY of Whittlesea councillors will enter into a partnership with Casa D’Abruzzo Club in Epping to develop a four-court indoor stadium, costing at least $5 million.

The majority of councillors were on board with the partnership with Stevan Kozmevski, Lawrie Cox, Tom Joseph, Emilia Sterjova, Sam Alessi and Alahna Desiato all voting in favour of the motion. Cr Caz Monteleone was conflicted out of the decision.

Cr Norm Kelly voted against the motion – raising policy tensions between supporting a club that owned and operated poker machines and council’s substantial advocacy on anti-gambling.

“Council are jumping in bed with the mob that are making money from 73 poker machines,” Cr Kelly said.

“If we’re fair dinkum – then we don’t get into partnership with them.

“The things we do here – we talk about anti-gambling, then we say let’s give Casa D’Abruzzo five million.”

Mayor Lawrie Cox disagreed with Cr Kelly, saying the partnership was about delivering facilities to the community.

“I’m a great believer in sports facilities… I do not and I will not support the zero tolerance argument,” Cr Cox said.

“I’ve been to this club – to be honest with you I’ve never set foot in that [pokies] lounge – if you don’t want to go in there you don’t have to.”

Cr Alessi supported Cr Cox, saying he was surprised there was opposition to the partnership.

“Council has always encouraged young people getting active and staying out of trouble,” Cr Alessi said.

“We understand there are members of the community that want zero tolerance [to gambling] council has enquired and made sure the proposal didn’t have any connection with the current [club] building… people can go there, use the courts and leave.”

The project will be delivered at a significantly reduced cost to council and will be completed in a shorter timeframe.

Casa D’Abruzzo president Fernando Cirdinale said the club was pleased to work with council to support the community.

“Casa D’Abruzzo is a proud member of our local community. We have been working with the council for the past 20 years with our soccer pitches so this stadium will be a great addition to the Epping area,” Mr Cirdinale said.

Work on the stadium in Epping is expected to be complete by mid-2021. The $5 million contribution guarantees community access for at least 20 years.