ACRE packs up railway precinct
INDIGO Shire Council is going back to the drawing board to scope the ways in which Beechworth’s former railway station might be used for the community’s benefit.
The Beechworth-based Australian Centre for Rural Entrepreneurship – that last year expressed an interest in the station precinct which was subsequently accepted by the council – is not proceeding with its proposed project at the site.
The organisation, which is leading the refurbishment and redevelopment of Beechworth’s historic former gaol, released a statement on Friday in which it said it had decided “not to take up the option to rejuvenate the old Beechworth railway station precinct in a partnership with Indigo Shire Council, despite being the preferred applicant to do so”.
ACRE chief executive Matt Pfahlert had earlier advised the council of the organisation’s withdrawal.
He said “personal and professional attacks directed at the ACRE team last year and uncertainty about councillors’ support of the project” had resulted in the decision.
ACRE in late November, last year, drew criticism from Beechworth businesswoman Margy Barwood, who operates a holiday property near the precinct, and some other nearby residents about the potential effects of youth and cycle-related developments canvassed in ACRE’s expression of interest.
Mrs Barwood afterwards convened a public meeting at the station but became contentious and it fizzled out when Indigo mayor Jenny O’Connor, chief executive Gerry Smith and ACRE representatives left the gathering.
ACRE at the time said it wanted the precinct to become known as “a place where community members learn new skills and engage in activities such as social enterprise, cycling, music, skating, the arts and the environment”.
It also said that some misinformation circulating in the community about what might be done at the site “makes some serious assumptions” despite the early, developmental nature of its discussions with the council.
Further discussions between ACRE and the council did not proceed to an agreed plan for the precinct.
“We want young people and innovators with new or bold ideas to be encouraged to raise them in our community and they won’t if they witnessed our experience of last year,” Mr Pfahlert said on Friday.
“We are raising this because we would like to see this type of innovation considered in a context of respectful discussion and debate.
“If the way we engage and discuss bold ideas doesn’t improve, we fear this commu- nity may miss out on more initiatives as both investors and innovators may take them somewhere else.
“Given what’s happened, we believe Indigo Shire needs to develop a clear and unified vision and strategy for the site.
“We are very disappointed, as we invested a lot of resources to develop our proposal.”
Mr Pfahlert said ACRE is still open to playing a supportive role in the development of the precinct for the benefit of young people and broader community development focused on enterprise learning and ideas incubation, cycling, skating, arts and culture.
BOLD IDEAS: Australian Centre for Rural Entrepreneurship chief executive Matt Pfahlert – at a community briefing in Beechworth’s old gaol last year – wants the community to look forward.