The extension of the Kings Square Project contract between the City of Fremantle and Sirona Capital will be debated at full council this Wednesday and no doubt there will be many people in the public gallery and some passionate public speakers as well.
While I am extremely disappointed with the very long delay and waiting for a government department to move to Kings Square, I believe it would be wrong to not extend the lease up till the moment the State Government has announced its preferred location in Fremantle for the relocation of the Department of Housing. This is supposed to happen in August, so no need for a six-months extension.
It is evident and in print in the agenda for Wednesday that the delay is costing the City money at $ 800,000.00 per annum in lost income at Queensgate, so over the three years of waiting that is $ 2,4 million!
I personally would love to never have to write a single negative or questioning word about Kings Square but I fear this is going to be an epic saga that won’t go away, as community groups will keep demanding more clarity on what it is going to cost the ratepayers. With Premier Colin Barnett telling the Fremantle Society president that some of the contract smells of WA Inc. it could well be that the Minister for Local Government will be asked by the Premier to investigate again and in more detail.
I want to make a few points about the call by community groups to abolish the Kings Square Project. I don’t want to go through the same old arguments of the controversial and badly explained business plan, but about what could happen if the project does not go ahead.
The project was at length debated by the community some three years ago and was seen as essential to restart the retail economy and activate Kings Square and the CBD, before Council signed off on it.
I now hear calls to demolish the administration building and create a big grass area there, but it comes from the same people who constantly complain about anti-social behaviour at Kings Square. A grassed area would not attract families for a picnic, but would bring more troublemakers, and it would not bring more badly needed shoppers and office workers to the inner city.
A lawn is not going to do anything at all for the retailers in town, but those who accuse the City of Fremantle for being responsible for the demise of retail, conveniently forgetting the Global Financial Crisis, now want to scrap a major project that significantly would help revive the retail economy in Fremantle.
The people who laud the convenience of modern (but very boring) shopping centres don’t want Fremantle to be modernised and become more attractive to traders, but will probably keep blaming the City for not doing enough for our retailers.
I keep hearing arguments that in the past consultants and Council wanted to go in a different direction, but that changed in 2012 when the Kings Square Project was approved by full council, so why can’t some people accept that changes are being made by new councils, not only in Fremantle but everywhere in the world. There are new ways of doing things, new perspectives, new policies, new State Government directives, etc. Times change.
It it negative, unhelpful and not factual that the City of Fremantle did not try hard enough to keep Myer in town. The big department stores have issues and do things differently. They need a lot of footfall and passing trade that Fremantle could no longer offer.
I drove through Subiaco this morning where most of the expensive fashion labels have abandoned the Colonade Shopping Centre in Hay Street, and a significant downturn in retail has happened in very many cities around Australia and the world, not just in Fremantle.
It is too simplistic to blame Fremantle Council, and it is not fair. We finally have a building boom in town after twenty years of development hibernation, but none of the Council bashers want to acknowledge that because there are a few big-headed people with bruised egos and a personal agenda who arrogantly believe that they know everything better than the rest of us, and who are quite happy to ignore that proper community consultation was done on the Kings Square Project. There is a 50 per cent change the Housing Department will move to Kings Square, so why not allow time for that State decision to be made before abandoning or altering the project and lose that opportunity.
If the KS project was scrapped it would seriously and negatively impact on the confidence developers have been showing the City of Fremantle and many might pull out and not bother in the future. The same would apply to new retailers who are contemplating to move into Fremantle.
Not going ahead with Kings Square would also mean a loss in connectivity and wayfinding to the developed Fremantle Oval precinct and the Henderson Street Warders Cottages.
No is never a good word to start with when one is considering change, development and a new direction. Fremantle can’t and won’t remain the same, no matter how hard some individuals keep trying to stop progress. Fremantle will change because it needs to grow and modernise, and it needs to happen fast, but with adequate restraint and a genuine attempt at getting better quality buildings.
You can’t say you want more retailers in town when you want to stop most development, because without more people living, working and visiting Freo new retail is not viable here and no one will take the risk opening up shop.
The Kings Square Project will cost the community money, it is arguable and still unclear how much that is, but should we not invest in the future and the retail resurrection, should we not entice more developers to start building, should we not want more hotels so visitors can stay overnight, and do we really expect that this will all come at no cost to the ratepayers?
Some on blogs and social media defend the extremely expensive and not very impressive Elizabeth Quay development in Perth but are attacking the Kings Square Project, and no doubt will attack the Cantonment Hill project and oppose any new building development that is over two storeys in height.
The community elected a Council to make decisions, many of which we might not agree with, but it is their job. The community had the chance to vote out six Councillors at the last election, but changed only one. I think it is imperative to keep that in mind when shouting at public meetings.
Now have a very special ANZAC Day long weekend everyone!
What a difference a few years make! Four years ago on a very cool and very early Saturday morning on April 21, 2012 the Fremantle Society took action against the neglect of the Warders Cottages in Henderson Street. We had been lobbying State Government for a long time but nothing was happening, so we started our SHAME campaign that we spelled out in very large words, made out of socks, on the fences in front of the cottages.
The colourful protest got a lot of media attention and we continued with interviews on radio stations, letters to editors and submissions to the State and Fremantle Council. Now these cottages are being renovated and will be put up for sale while the former Police Station and Courthouse have been sold to Freo developers Silverleaf.
We also lobbied Defence Housing in Canberra and asked for urgent action on the vacant and derelict Married Quarters Gunners cottages at Cantonment Hill and were supported by Melissa Parke MP, now these cottages are ready again for occupation.
I have heard criticism that the Fremantle Society of the last five years has been ineffective but these examples show that was certainly not the case. We worked very hard behind the scenes to make a positive difference to Fremantle and while we lost a few battles we succeeded in others.
Fremantle Councillor Jon Strachan alerted me to the presentation by WA Treasurer Mike Nahan to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry yesterday, where he told the 100 strong crowd that the Passenger Terminal and all land to the east of it at South Wharf would not be part of the sale of Fremantle Port.
The land would developed by an MRA-style project management group and also allow for community access to the area west of the railway bridge.
Under the present buffer zone rules around Fremantle Ports that land could not be developed for residential use and I wonder if that would be a great idea anyway as it is very close to train noise.
Where would they put the new passenger terminal though? Would it be part of the contract with those who lease the port for 49 years to build a new passenger terminal west of the present one, closer to the CBD and how would that be enforced, or would it have to be part of the new development and even further away from the CBD? I doubt it would be considered to be safe to let the massive cruise ships turn around so close to the old traffic bridge though so a new passenger terminal would more likely be near the present Rottnest ferry terminal at B Shed.
There is possibly a need for a new and stronger railway bridge in the future and also for a new traffic bridge with more lanes, so any development in the area needs to be done with that in mind.
The West Australian reports today that City of Fremantle CEO Graeme McKenzie will recommend to Council to extend the contract for the Kings Square project with Sirona Capital for six months, to see if the State Government will commit to relocate the Department of Housing to the former MYER building. According to McKenzie a decision is due mid year. A decision was also expected by November last year and the year before, so I won’t be holding my breath.
The Freo CEO told the West reporter that the department is looking at two locations, the second one presumable the Woolstores shopping centre development.
Should Council decide not to extend the contract, my bet is they will, Sirona could go it alone and buy the Queensgate building fom COF, but it is questionable if the Civic Centre still would be built if there is no partnership, so what would happen with that idea? Could the City afford to build the Kerry Hill designed building and if not where would all the staff be accommodated?
The reality is that there is a 50 per cent chance that Housing will move to Kings Square. We have waited a long time, so my gut feeling is to grant the extension, maybe not even for six months but until the State has made a decision on the relocation.
There is no doubt for me personally that the development of Kings Square is essential for the revitalisation of the Fremantle CBD. I still believe it needs to be 24/7 activation and that means residential should be put in the mix as we otherwise will only have daytime activation and the same old dark city square at night. The area needs passive surveillance and that can only happen when people live there and frequent the area day and night, for that reason alone a hotel would have been good.
P.S. The West must be getting desperate claiming the story about the Fremantle Oval development is an exclusive. It is an agenda item for Wednesday’s committee meeting for heaven’s sake, so there is nothing exclusive about it.