Main street upgrade issues
A business forum this week heard senior Shire officers coach main street traders on ways to prepare for next year’s redevelopment, but business owners want the project fast-tracked and aired worries about potential disruptions.
Traders attended Tuesday’s 70strong Chamber of Commercehosted meeting at the Margaret River Hotel, but questions about the state of the local economy were explicitly ruled out.
The long-held frustrations of some operators and landlords also boiled over in a call from some for the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River to waive business rates for 12 months because of the main street redevelopment.
Meeka House owner Jennifer Gherardi dismissed suggestions from Shire infrastructure director Markus Botte that businesses should talk to their landlords and banks to seek reduced rents and help with loans.
“We could talk to the Shire and ask if they could abolish our rates for traders for the year,” she said.
“I really ask the Shire to take that on.”
Chamber president Steve Castan did not endorse the request, but said he would pass that request on to the Shire with the rest of the feedback gathered.
Mrs Gherardi said some landlords were paying $40,000 a year in rates and she questioned that impost given the forum heard disruption from the two-phase redevelopment would be significant.
The main street upgrade kicks off in January with stormwater and drainage works before a winter pause, then focuses on the street upgrades from September to February 2020, depending on weather.
Mr Botte didn’t sugar-coat the adverse effects on businesses, though many welcomed the upgrade of the “tired” Margaret River CBD.
He offered handy tips to businesses affected by the upgrade, saying it was a good time to re- model a business, cut back on staff, modify opening hours, deliver direct to customers, and consider creative promotions.
“Don’t panic, there are things you can do to minimise impacts,” he said.
“These ideas are based on international experience.”
Project manager Helen Whitbread said the redevelopment would give Margaret River a town centre to match its wine and food
offering. “This is not the panacea for all the potential problems people may be experiencing in town, but it does lay the foundation for it,” she said.
While outlining the pros and cons of the project, initiatives such as banners or promotional events to boost trade during roadworks were not guaranteed, dependent on grant money and the chamber taking charge.
A number of traders said the Shire should demand roadworks continued at night and on weekends to fast-track the upgrade’s completion.
At the same time, others expressed horror at roadworks continuing through school holidays, though Ms Whitbread said there was a planned break for the Easter trading peak.
Business owner Duncan Rees said conditions must be built into the construction contract to ensure delays were minimised.
And businessman Lloyd Shepherdson said selection of the project contractor was crucial.
“My concern really is of quality control, who runs it, and the timelines,” he said.
“For God’s sake, don’t accept the cheapest tender.”
Mr Botte stressed the road project was expensive and the $7.49 million funding was limited.
Businesses were urged to give detailed feedback through a new survey, but he also warned some requests might not be affordable.
The perennial issue of workers parking outside businesses was also raised again.
Riversmith’s Karen MacDonald joined Ms Gherardi in lambasting the Shire’s cash-in-lieu parking scheme, with Mrs Gherardi reminding attendees much parking was “private”, though other parkers would be welcome during the disruption.
The Shire would convene an industry briefing on September 26, with the tender for the project not yet awarded.
Residents wanting updates on the project, including the construction timetable, were urged to liaise with the chamber.