KEL SMITH wants to invest $200,000 in his popular Carriage Cafe on the Fremantle Esplanade but says the council’s refusal to extend his lease makes it unnecessarily risky.
He’s got another four years to go on the current lease but is seeking 10 more to make the investment worthwhile.
However, the council’s refusing to extend the lease before the expected completion early next year of a review of the Esplanade’s masterplan.
Mr Smith says there’s no set date for the review’s completion, nor its consideration by the council, leaving him and his expansion plans in limbo.
Given the review could recommend the cafe be moved from its home under century-old Norfolk Pines, as flagged in the master plan, he’s worried about the financial risk.
Mr Smith is convinced many on the council, still smarting from a previous lease stoush and his self-admitted take-no-prisoners personality, remain determined to push him off the park completely.
At this week’s meeting he reminded councillors what happened in 2009 when the council tried to boot him: he took in a 13,000-signature petition he’d gathered from supporters, including the name of former WA premier Peter Dowding.
Mr Smith’s previous ear-bashing of councillors over his concerns they were pushing him out had earned him a stern rebuke from chair Robert Fittock, who said he was tiring of “conspiracy theories”.
At least one of Mr Smith’s tinfoil-hat theories appears to have come to fruition, though.
He’s long argued the council would prefer pop-up food vans on the reserve and, while a recent trial ensured they had to keep their distance from existing businesses, the Herald has discovered the council has approved two that will operate metres from the Carriage.
Mr Smith is crying foul, saying they’ll compete with him for business without wearing the significant overheads he faces, including rent, staff and maintenance.
He rejects notions that creating a vibrant food hub will draw more people to the Esplanade.
“Pop-ups do not draw in visitors to Fremantle,” he said, adamantly.
“They do the opposite and only arrive when the weather is fine and pop up at the busy spots.”
He says the former owner of now-closed Mistral Cafe had blamed vans in Kings Square for sucking trade from his long-standing business, making it unviable.
by STEVE GRANT