Land of opportunities
MARK Beale and Kevin Collins are appealing to the Whitsunday community to put politics aside, consider the region’s proposed Chinatown development on its own merits and think long and hard about the future of Airlie Beach.
Both men, while speaking from the perspectives of different organisations, have been prompted to come forward by what they see as negative publicity engulfing the town.
At the root of these stories are proposals to raise building heights in Airlie Beach including at the Chinatown site, as well as a Crime and Corruption Commission assessment of council’s handling of the development and a looming Local Government election in March 2016.
Mr Collins, who is president of the Whitsunday Coast Chamber of Commerce, said he felt the recent “character attacks” on the mayor, councillors and investors, launched even before a development application had been lodged, sent the wrong signals and had the potential to jeopardise investment the community needed to provide jobs in tourism, building trades and supply chains into the future.
“This whole issue should be about best outcomes, not personal politics – and about what is in the best interests of the entire community, not just a select few,” he said.
Mr Beale, who is president of the Whitsunday branch of the China Australia Entrepreneurs Association Inc (CAEAI), said there were three issues at stake, with Chinatown’s backer Raymond Wang caught in the middle.
He said first was the issue of political gain from those wanting to discredit the current council and vote in a Bowen-based mayor at the upcoming election. Second was a “small minority opposed to development”, and last was the issue of building heights and council’s draft town plan.
With regard to the politics, Mr Beale said he firmly believed allegations against council and Mayor Jennifer Whitney were just “empty threats” designed to discredit the mayor.
He said the sale of the Waterson Way land to Whitsunday Chinatown Pty Ltd was actually a “very simple” affair.
“Mr Wang wanted to purchase the land a long time ago and the mayor told (him) that by law it had to go to tender... and they used an agent from Townsville to do this,” he said.
“Mr Wang’s tender was the best one and therefore accepted (so) anyone saying it wasn’t done properly needs to show why they think this is the case and be prepared to go to court over it.”
Mr Beale said those who questioned Cr Whitney’s association with Mr Wang needed to understand the Chinese had a different way of doing business that was all about building relationships and trust and that it would be “political suicide” for anyone in council to do anything “underhand”.With respect to those who might not want Airlie Beach to change, Mr Beale said it could not stay the same forever.
“If it is not growing, it is receding. We need more buildings, more jobs, more people moving here and we need to make Airlie Beach and the surrounding areas more resistant to the fluctuating tourism markets so that the economy stimulates itself,” he said.
Mr Collins added to this by saying as an increasing number of affluent residents bought high-end apartments and homes within the central tourism precinct of Airlie Beach, “we run the risk of an anti-development mindset and becoming an upmarket retirement village”.
Both men said they wanted to see a town plan that protected the tourism hub and encouraged sensible and sustainable development.
Mr Beale said under council’s draft scheme, the whole area around Waterson Way, not just Chinatown, would be open to eight-storey development.
“But this is not high-rise. High-rise is 20-plus,” he said, adding, “Mr Wang has said he will build to (whatever) height council will allow him to. Simple. There will not be wall to wall, four and eight-storey buildings in the main street”.
As for Chinatown, Mr Beale said the project would provide many new mainland attractions for locals and visitors to use and would ultimately attract thousands of people to Airlie Beach. “And in particular, a five-star hotel will be the pivotal point in Airlie Beach moving forward,” he said.
“So to the locals that are pro-development... now is the time to stand up and support Council with the building heights at Waterson Way. “Mr Wang has not lost faith in the region. He loves the region... (but) if Mr Wang decides not to build Chinatown the region will have to wait for someone else to do it, which may be never or many, many years.”
SKYLINE: Kevin Collins, on the Chinatown block, where he says an eight-storey building would hardly be taller than the highest gum tree on the site. In the background are Serene Apartments, which Mr Collins estimates at at least 15 storeys above sea level.