Main street up­grade is­sues

Augusta Margaret River Times - - Front Page - War­ren Hately

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.

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