A FREO publican poised to get a three-storey slice of Fremantle council’s rising civic building for a hospitality venue, says he’s keen to help clean Kings Square up with a bit of class.
On Wednesday the council’s finance and operations committee voted to offer Bar Orient owner Tony Taylor a 20-year lease on the 828sqm triangular corner of the building overlooking the square’s new children’s playground.
He’s proposing a cafe on the ground floor, bar on the first floor and function centre on the second floor, which is a significant escalation from the 240sqm cafe proposed in the council’s 2012 Kings Square business plan.
Under the lease conditions Mr Taylor wouldn’t pay rent for the first three years and the council would provide $500,000 towards the fit-out. The fourth year would also be heavily discounted before the annual rent of $233,100 kicked in.
Because his proposal was the only one received by the council – despite direct approaches to 100 hospitality operators outside Fremantle – some have argued the incentives are too generous and risk ratepayers’ money.
Fremantle Society president John Dowson described the deal as “inane” while secretary Chris Williams – a lawyer by profession – said it was “strong cause for concern” and described the Kings Square redevelopment as a “slow motion train wreck”.
“The Fremantle Society … has repeatedly pointed out that council should not be speculating with ratepayer money, by getting into commercial deals, which also creates difficulties for developers,” Mr Dowson said.
Former local ratepayers association chair Mark Woodcock sat in on Wednesday’s meeting, and with a background in hospitality that involves designing restaurants for major cruise liners, he says the incentives aren’t out of line with current industry expectations.
But he believes the cost of retro-fitting the building to cater for a hospitality venue will be greater than anticipated, putting pressure on both the business and the council. Mr Woodcock said it was also bizarre to be proposing a tavern right above the council’s library and next to a playground.
Councillor Andrew Sullivan, who spoke at length in support of the lease at Wednesday’s committee meeting, said council officers had spent a great deal of time negotiating with Mr Taylor and he was confident it was a viable business.
Cr Sullivan said making a profit for the council wasn’t his only motivation to vote for the lease, as a hospitality venue open in the evening would help activate Kings Square, which was a key outcome of its redevelopment.
“I know everyone says it’s a liquor license so therefore it must be a booze barn, but he is offering a proposal which is cafe-styled hospitality,” Cr Sullivan said.
“It’s like a combination of Gino’s and Benny’s.”
Mr Taylor says he wants to lift the mood of the square rather than contribute to any more alcohol-related problems.
“I went to Kings Square yesterday to have a look when I went to the bank and was approached by someone and called a …. I was abused and I thought ‘this is just me, imagine if it was a family or people coming off a cruise ship’,” Mr Taylor told the Herald.
“I want to help create somewhere people want to go, where they can enjoy the square, the library, the shops across the road.”
“It’s not good at the moment and I am trying to help improve it.”
Mr Taylor has run the Bar Orient for 15 years and says he’d like to keep that connection going because he’s built up a great rapport with his clientele, but a backpackers run by an unrelated company upstairs has been causing him headaches for a few years and he’s still up in the air on whether he’ll renew his lease when it runs out in four years.
Mr Taylor said it’s frustrating being linked to the trouble spilling out of the backpackers because they share a building.
by STEVE GRANT