FREMANTLE mayor BRAD PETTITT and council CEO GRAEME MACKENZIE co-author a response to last week’s THINKING ALLOWED by Martin Lee.
IN last week’s Herald the Kings Square redevelopment was subject to some renewed scrutiny as a result of local resident Martin Lee (who also wrote the Thinking Allowed) contacting Peter Tinley’s office.
We welcome this scrutiny as this is a very big investment the City of Fremantle is making on behalf of you, the ratepayers, but we also need to make sure you’re getting the full story.
Let us say first up and without reservation—we are very confident this project will bring massive benefits to Fremantle. The numbers have been scrutinised not only by council and city staff but also by independent experts who all agree this is a worthwhile investment the city is making.
More than just bricks and mortar or dollars and cents
So why was Mr Lee criticising the business plan? At the heart of his criticism is a different perspective of the role of a local government.
Mr Lee has looked at the Kings Square project in isolation, running the numbers through his models which spat out figures he believes don’t add up.
What Mr Lee hasn’t done is put a value on the broader flow-on effects of the Kings Square project as being a catalyst for further redevelopment and investment in Freo, as well as the raft of social benefits that come with more people working and shopping in Fremantle.
Mr Lee has not looked at how the project will double the size of the community library, or bring with it a new Fremantle visitor centre and new public toilets with much-needed baby change facilities. He has not put a value on the new public spaces in Kings Square for people to enjoy, the value to the local economy of 1000 new office workers, nor has he put a value on the pride we’ll all have in our new city centre.
‘this project will bring massive benefits to Fremantle’
Mr Lee would like the Fremantle council to behave in a manner similar to that of a landlord or developer and look at the Kings Square project purely as an economic investment. But the Kings Square project is much more than an economic investment—it’s an investment in the very future of Fremantle and is arguably the most important project of our generation.
You can imagine someone with a similar mindset to Mr Lee in 1885 making exactly the same case as to why the council of the time shouldn’t build the town hall when “that shed down the road” is just fine.
How did this opportunity come about?
With the departure of Myer, a once-in-a-generation opportunity arose for a coordinated redevelopment of the very tired-looking Fremantle city centre.
Part of this was a chance to provide office space for a major government department to be located in Fremantle. With around 1000 office workers in the heart of Fremantle we saw this as a great kick-start to helping revitalise Fremantle’s struggling retail sector as well as providing much-improved community facilities and a town square we can all be proud of.
The project, to be fully integrated, required a partnership with Sirona Capital which owns the Myer building. The business plan for this proposal was publicly advertised and heavily debated by council and the community in 2012.
Put simply, it involved the city selling the Queensgate carpark and out-of-date cinema building (at a public and independently verifiable valuation) and reinvesting those funds in a new library and civic centre (designed by the winner of Fremantle’s first international architectural competition – Kerry Hill) and town square. Sirona’s commitment is to renew these buildings within an agreed timeframe, with the approved plans providing around 30,000sqm of quality office space and 12,000sqm of retail space.
This project has a total value now nearing $250 million and a project of this size takes time to materialise. Getting started requires a formal commitment from a tenant to occupy a significant amount of the commercial space that will be created by this development.
Our joint efforts to date have been focussed on getting that commitment from the state government which announced in 2012 that the Department of Housing would be relocated to Fremantle.
Negotiations with the state have been slow and at times frustrating. I know some people are pessimistic about the project proceeding, but we are expecting an announcement in the coming months which, if positive, will kick this project along.
Fremantle council – driver or passenger?
Local governments aren’t just about roads, rates and rubbish nor should they behave purely like profit-making corporations. Yes, the Fremantle council must always behave cautiously and responsibly with ratepayer funds, but our role is also to make decisions to ensure Fremantle realises its potential as Perth’s second city.
At the very core of this debate is whether you believe the council should be a passenger or in the driver’s seat in Fremantle’s economic recovery.
This is a crucial time for Fremantle‘s future so I have no doubt this is the right time for this investment. But don’t take our word for it—check out the project and the business case for yourself at http://www.fremantle.wa.gov.au/kingssquare.