FREMANTLE council is set to beef up its destination marketing budget, but it looks likely to come at the cost of the organisation credited with giving local small businesses a voice.
On Wednesday the council’s finance, policy, operations and legislation committee unanimously passed a proposal to shift $360,000 it raises via a differential rate on CBD businesses from the Business Improvement District (BID) to a mass marketing tourism campaign.
Under the plan the council would also wind up its in-house destination marketing and create a new arms-length group made up of marketing professionals and business representatives.
The group would have four years to develop and oversee a new branding campaign.
It would replace the Fremantle Story marketing plan which is approaching the end of its life cycle.
The council’s economic development manager warned in a report to councillor that visitor numbers have “stagnated” in Fremantle.
Local chamber of commerce CEO Olwyn Williams spoke in favour of the destination marketing group.
“We keep losing people from our streets,” Ms Williams told councillors.
“We cannot anymore rely on the result of purely just planning vision, talking about how hard it is and a business as usual approach.”
The group also has the support of the management of the Fremantle Markets, the Fremantle Tourist Association, Fremantle Accommodation Association, Sirona Capital, the Tourism Council of WA and Tourism WA.
But BID chairman Karl Bullers argued that pulling its funding was stripping small retailers who relied on local trade of their voice.
“They don’t feel they have an ear in the city,” Mr Bullers said.
Mr Bullers said with his organisation’s funding running out at the end of the financial year and the new organisation needing time to settle in, it would leave business languishing too long.
“They have never ever competed in such a hard time, so to close the door on the BID is, like they say, taking away a lifeline.”
His appeal got some sympathy from councillor Andrew Sullivan who said the issue shouldn’t have pitted destination marketing against the BID. He successfully moved an amendment that opens the door for the council to find some money to help prop up the bid.
Under the plan, the council’s staff are now offering to take up much of the slack of the BID in terms of dealing with business inquiries.
But that doesn’t sit well with The Artisan Store gallery owner Rowena Mitchell, who says she felt like she was hitting her head against a brick wall trying to negotiate with the council trying to get approval for her artists to use a loading zone on High Street while bringing new works to the store.
She said after weeks of getting the brush-off, she approached the BID who’d sorted the problem within days.
Ms Mitchell was also knocked back when she asked for her upcoming arts prize to get some publicity through Fremantle Story, getting a bewildering range of bureaucratic reasons it didn’t qualify, including that it wasn’t “family friendly” and didn’t generate enough Google clicks.
She said the chamber had also refused to promote the recent Westend Weekender on High Street because participants weren’t members.
“Why, I ask, when we are all on the same side,” she asked.
“It’s like the council and the chamber are doing their utmost to make the BID fail, but despite their petty politics the BID has succeeded and is a champion of small business.”
The item comes before full council next week for endorsement.
by ALICE ANGELONI and STEVE GRANT