FREMANTLE: RUNNING ON EMPTY

While council deliver a mantra of sustainability the signs of a collapse in the Fremantle economy is glaringly evident in the CBD.

I took a walk around  the area and counted in excess of 40 properties which are empty, offered for lease, or moving. The total is probably closer to 60 as the Woolworth’s building houses a number of vacant outlets  as does the Coles Woolstore.  These pictures were taken within about 250m of the Town Hall

Very recently one new retail outlet, selling high quality home furnishings and decorations, has closed after six months. It was located in the Mall, opposite the Town Hall. The rent was $240,000,  higher than similar sized properties in downtown New York.

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VILLA, closed after six months about a week ago. The rent was $240,000 a year but trade for this high quality retail outlet  didn’t materialise. This is in Fremantle Mall, opposite the Attwell Arcade development.

Shepherd’s News agency have to move from their prime spot. It holds the longest serving tenancy of Fremantle. The original Shepherd’s News Agency was established in this building in 1908 and the current business owners have been there for 26 years. They now have to move aside for developers.

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Shepherd’s Newsagency have been located in the Manning building  since 1908. They are the oldest  business in Fremantle still operating from the same premises. Now they have to move to make way for development.

The Woolworths shopping centre, next to St Patrick’s, has been closed for a couple of years. It was gleefully broadcast that this would bring new life to the east end of the city. Opposite them the Hilton site, which used to contain a number of shops, is derelict and scheduled to become a temporary car park.

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The Woolstores centre is hosting many empty premises. Even with a carpark in situ it was not able to survive

The centre  hosted about 20 retail and office business’s. They were not included in my count of about 40 empty premises.

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The Hilton Hotel site, due to become a temporary car park. 

CODA, a mainstay of council’s PR sustainability spin, have closed shop and amalgamated with a Perth based company. CODA was a foundation stone of the Future Fremantle organisation, established to build a better Fremantle.

 

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CODA’s vacant office

 

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Coles Woolstores site is home to several vacant retail premises
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A small selection of over 40 empty retail and office premises in the CBD is shown below.

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And finally, in one vacant shop window the mayor delivers his mantra of a vibrant city.

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LOW KEY KICK START IN BEACONSFIELD

FREMANTLE COUNCIL ELECTIONS ARE WARMING UP

A  small, low key, group of supporters gathered at the Hilton Bowling Club last night (Friday 21st July) to support Fedele Carmada’s run for a Beaconsfield seat in the Fremantle elections.

Mayoral challenger Ra Stewart and former mayor Peter Tagliaferri  attended but primarily this was a family affair. Even the candidate’s grandmother was sitting quietly in the background, underlining a deeply established local family. It was a modest, ‘Very Freo’ grass roots event at which Fedele Carmada appeared as an intelligent, well informed, home grown, candidate emphasised by the fact he is a third generation local fisherman.

He delivered no bullshit, no rallying cries, no political platitudes but a straightforward ‘we’ve got a job to do, let’s do it’ attitude.

Hannah Fitzhardinge, the incumbent councillor, will be tenacious and highly credible in defending her seat, making the battle for Beaconsfield  the bellwether to watch in the lead-up to the elections.

STIR THE POSSUM

Fremantle traditionally has a higher turnout of voters than many local council electorates, though not high enough. Because local councils effect daily living more than any arm of government it is essential for ratepayers and residents to get out, stir the possum, listen to candidates’ objectives and make a seriously considered choice. In October the city will experience the most interesting election for decades at a time when contentious issues related to development, heritage and city finances are surfacing.

SUNSET  SHAMBLES

COUNCIL ADMINISTRATION ADVISE ‘KILL THE LEASE’

RA STEWART:  ‘COMPANY’S LACK OF DUE DILIGENCE SHOULD NOT BE COUNCIL’S PROBLEM’

Tomorrow night (Wednesday, 28th June) Fremantle council will consider what to do with the troubled Sunset Venues’ lease.
As a result of financial issues the company’s  request for a 12 month period of grace before their lease is implemented will be decided by the full council.

SUNSET ‘LOOK LIKE MOBSTERS OF ROCK  – THEY’RE ON THE NOSE, FROZEN FREO’S LIVE MUSIC SCENE’

A critic of the Sunset companies, Robby Lang, said in a comment to Fremantle Backchat: “Sunset have frozen the live music scene in Freo for the past 3 years with their inaction on the old Fly by Nite site and J shed.
“These sites should be given to people whose actions will benefit the community. Sunset is on the nose and for council to prop them up is bullshit. Unfortunately they are looking like the Mobsters of Rock, Not paying their sub contractors etc.”
Sunset have admitted to financial problems in settling outstanding debts and now wish to implement the J Shed lease on 1st July 2018. However Sunset Events are a different company from Sunset Venues but it appears that Sunset Venues, who have a lease on the old Drill Hall in central Fremantle, are not in a position to activate plans for the former location of the ‘Fly By Nite’, a popular music venue.

COUNCIL ADMIN ADVISE CONDITIONS MUST BE MET OR KILL THE LEASE

The lease is due to be activated this Saturday, 1st July. Sunset Venues have said they hope a 12 month extension before activation may trigger investment. They offer no guarantee that granting extra time will succeed in attracting investors.
Council administration have recommended an alternative suggestion to councillors which includes granting additional time but concluding that if conditions are not met : “ [by] the deadline of 1 December 2018 … the lease is terminated”.
Councillor Doug Thompson who voted against the company’s request for an extension at Council’s Finance, Policy, Operations and Legislation Committee  meeting on 14th June feels the administration’s alternative proposal is preferable. He said: “This would also mean that Sunset Venues must show they have the financial capacity to deliver the Lessee works to Council’s satisfaction. Subject to hearing the debate I have a view that an earlier date than December 2018 for conditions to be met has merit. Of course Sunset Venues would have to agree to any condition precedent being included in the lease.”

$105,000 SUBSIDY ISSUES

The issue of a $105,000 subsidy has been raised and compared to the withdrawal of $97,000 funding from the Wirrawee Woman’s Refuge. The term ‘subsidy’ was challenged by a reader on the Freo Massive Facebook page.

Whichever way this reduction in rent is considered it is a subsidy. It is designed to assist Sunset Venues establish a brewery. The  term ‘assist’ is a direct translation of the Latin ‘subsidium’ from which our language gets the word ‘subsidy’.

City Ward Councillor Rachel Pemberton explained there is no comparison between the withdrawal of Council funding from a womens’ refuge in 2015 and the funding of Sunset’s project.
She said: “The State Government significantly cut funding for Warrawee and so we decided not to tender to run the service and allow a specialist service provider take over. The operator that won the tender has taken over the management [Warrawee still exists and operates in Fremantle] and has other refuges so can  provide a better service more efficiently than we could”.
Ms Pemberton continued, “Council was committed to direct its previous funding to Warrawee to provide specialist legal advice at the Fremantle Community Legal Centre to help people, including women fleeing domestic violence, avoid becoming homeless”.

RA STEWART: ‘PRIORITY IS TO SUPPORT THE VULNERABLE : NOT IN COUNCIL’S BEST INTERESTS TO SUPPLY CONCESSIONS ON LEASES’

Mayoral candidate Ra Stewart commented: “The Warrawee Women’s Refuge provides safe, affordable and supported crisis care accommodation for women and children subjected to domestic and family violence. This service was managed by the City of Fremantle until 2015, after which time Council decided not to reapply to run the service thereby saving approximately $100,000 per annum. Given the recent focus on domestic violence at both State and Federal levels of government, and its social impact on our community, my priority would most certainly have been to continue to support these vulnerable members of our community”.
Commenting on the J Shed brewery proposal Ra Stewart said: “It is important to attract interesting and viable businesses to the City of Fremantle for the enjoyment of all, it is not in Council’s best interests, nor the ratepayers it represents, to provide concessions on lease agreements, or absorb the costs of a company’s oversight in regards to the due diligence around its commercial arrangements”.

 

Roger Garwood : Editor

editorbackchat@gmail.com

AUSTRALIA DAY CHANGE: NO 79%, YES 17%, DUNNO 3%

 

Australian Associated Press have reported that the Australian Local Governments Association (ALGA), gathering in Canberra, has today (Tuesday) voted 64-62  for councils to consider efforts they could take to lobby the government for a date change for Australia Day.

A statement issued by ALGA said: “The ALGA board noted the level of debate and the closeness of the result of the debate and will take these matters into consideration when determining a course of action.”

Of 560 local councils represented by ALGA only 126 were at the Canberra meeting. This leaves room for doubt as to an overall opinion of councils’ for a change of date for Australia Day.

VOTE COULD BECOME AN ELECTION BATTLE GROUND

The vote by the local councils represented by ALGA at the meeting was close but an online poll published today shows nearly 78.87% of the population do not want change, 18.44% do and 2.69% are undecided.

Fremantle Council initiated a change and the national debate this year. With local council elections due in October the issue of a change of date could become a campaign point for voters to consider.

Roger Garwood
editorbackchat@gmail.com

SUNSET’S J SHED SUBSIDY

SUNSET HAVE GAINED RATEPAYERS’  $105,000 ‘SUBSIDY’

In a lease approved by  Fremantle Council  for  Sunset Events ratepayers will fund a  $105,000 subsidy to help the financially troubled company to establish their micro brewery and 400 seat bar in J shed.

 

An extension of 12 months for the time in which Sunset implement the lease has been applied for and will be considered by council tomorrow, Wednesday 14th June.

In an application lodged with Fremantle Council   (7th July 2017) Benson Studio for Sunset outline a proposal which reveals a rent reduction of $105,000 in the first two years of the Sunset lease.

The rent for the lease  of the J Shed studio, situated on Arthur Head below the Round House and site for Sunset’s proposed micro brewery, is $83.950 per year. Over the first two years rent would have totalled  $167,900. Sunset are requesting they pay only $62,962 in that period. This represents a shortfall of $105,000 which effectively forces ratepayers to subsidise a private company’s startup. Several observers have commented that even without the subsidy the  rent is very cheap.

Buried deep in the 62 page lease the relevant clause states:

Item 8.       Rent: (clause 3.1)

$83,950.00 per annum plus GST

14.6     Rent Reduction

The Parties acknowledge and agree that during the period commencing from the Commencement Date and ending 24 months after the Commencement Date, the Lessee will pay Rent at a reduced rate and in the following manner

(a)        for the first year of the Term, the Lessee will pay 25% of the Rent; and

b)         for the second year of the Term, the Lessee will pay 50% of the Rent.

FINANCIAL CLOUD OVER SUNSET : ONLY ‘HOPEFUL’ THEY CAN PAY RENT

A number of  media outlets  have outlined some members of the events industry in Western Australia have had trouble paying creditors. Those businesses include Sunset who have been arranging financial settlements with their creditors.

Sunset are only ‘hopeful’ that extra time will help. The Application says: “Sunset has advised that it would be difficult in current circumstances for them to pay rent from July 2017 without the approvals they require to trade effectively. Sunset are hopeful that once approvals are gained, it will trigger investment and the ability to cover the rent and finalise the “Lessee Works”.

COUNCILLORS ADVISED  ‘REJECT EXTENSION ‘

The application for the extension also says: “Sunset Venues have had ample time to gain required approvals and that the lease considers the scenario in which approvals have not been granted by the lease commencement date. Therefore, it is recommended that the request for an extension until 1 July 2018 be rejected.”

Council officers state the proposed leasing arrangements may continue in a state of ‘frustration’. They say “In the event that the approvals are not granted, the lease will continue in a state of ‘frustration’ where no outcome is achieved other than activation …”

WHY SHOULD WE SUBSIDISE THEM?

Sunset’s management admit they are financially frustrated. Is it reasonable for ratepayers to subsidise them?

There has been considerable  angst among residents in the area of J Shed.  The issue of this lease and the request for a $105,000 ‘startup subsidy’ may have a strong influence on the outcome of council elections in October this year.

A number of councillors and organisations have been asked by Fremantle Backchat to comment.

North Ward  councillor Doug Thompson explained his considerations. He said: “Councillors are required to take into account a range of information before making a decision and to have an open mind  about decisions. My general approach to decision making is to give primacy to the information contained in the report and to the officers’ recommendation”

He continued:  “I keep an open mind ( as I am required to) in relation to information provided during a meeting and the issues raised in debate. In relation to your specific questions the decision in relation to the lease arrangements has already been made and is not being reconsidered. What I think about specific elements of the lease is irrelevant. The good governance recommendation by the Department of Local Government, and the Local Government Act,  requires me to support decisions made by Council, regardless of whether I, as an individual Councillor supported those decisions at the time.”

Ra Stewart, a mayoral candidate in the City’s October electoral said: “I am supportive of the officer’s recommendation to reject the extension of the lease commencement date. It would appear that Council has been fairly generous up to this point in time.”

‘KICKING THE CAN AROUND’

The Mayor and City Ward Councillor Rachel  Pemberton have declared a conflict of interest and feel in that circumstance they are not in a position to comment.

Maryrose  Baker and Robert Mehan of Fremantle Inner City Residents Association declined to comment saying:  “FICRA is currently preparing a formal response for Council re the latest Sunset Events J Shed proposal.  We don’t intend to issue any statements on the matter as an Association nor as individuals right now”.

John Dowson was asked to comment as  President of the newly amalgamated Fremantle Society and the Fremantle Residents’ & Ratepayers’ Association but chose to make a personal observation: “In terms of the J Shed lease Sunset may have a lot on their plate financially. Sunset and the Mayor may not want the lease to be a major election issue, raising again the question of the $5000 election donation from Chitty’s brother, and kick the can down the road until the October election is over”.

ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM A MAJOR ELECTION ISSUE?

If council approve the application for a delay the controversial elephant in the room may  be given a lease of life.  If they do not Sunset will need to implement the lease from 1st July this year, complete with the already agreed $105,000 rent reduction but still under their admitted financial difficulties.

It does seem likely that the J Shed lease and Sunset Events will become an election issue which will need to be addressed by all candidates, particularly those for City Ward and for the position of mayor.