BUSINESSES which lease properties from Fremantle council have asked it to dig deeper to help them get through the current crisis.
The council recently announced it would let businesses defer their rent for six months, but two merchants who contacted the Herald feared it would leave them with a crippling debt burden when life returns to normal.
“I’ve been here nearly 20 years and paid them $500,000, but they were prepared to give Tony two years’ free rent to build a pub that was never going to happen,” one owner said of the council’s attempt to woo Orient Hotel public Tony Taylor into it’s long-delayed Kings Square redevelopment.
“I’ll be left with a $15,000 bill.” He also pointed to a statement from prime minister Scott Morrison on Sunday urging landlords to “sit down together” and work out how to keep businesses alive. Among the “common” principles
Mr Morrison released was a “reduction or waiver” of rents.
Another business owner pointed to the McGowan government’s decision to give businesses a rent holiday in its Yagan Square development.
He said it felt like Fremantle had put all its eggs in the Kings Square development and was now too cash-strapped to help out when it was needed.
But Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt said deferring rents was just one of the city’s measures to help local businesses.
“Other measures include free on-street parking for the next three months, waiving food business inspection fees and alfresco dining fees and assistance through our Small Business Capacity Building program to access the state and federal government stimulus packages,” Dr Pettitt said.
“The purpose of the six months deferred rent was to give those businesses some immediate breathing room. It also gives us time for more detailed one-on-one discussions with each business so we can respond according to their individual circumstances. I would strongly encourage other Fremantle landlords to take a similar approach.
“We will also negotiate with city tenants on a case-by-case basis to make adjustments to outgoings like power and water, and we will offer individual payment plans on council rates to those who are experiencing financial hardship.
“Like everyone else, the Covid-19 crisis will have a significant financial impact on the City of Fremantle so we’ll need to find a way to manage a large decline in revenue while also maintaining service delivery.
“The Kings Square Renewal project is absolutely essential in the city’s long-term plan to have more people living and working in Fremantle, creating a seven-day-a-week economy and generating more business for local traders. It is unfortunate the Covid-19 situation hit just as the first of 1700 staff from the Department of Communities started to move into their new headquarters in Kings Square.
“The city is doing what we can to help local businesses weather this storm, and once this is over they will all benefit from the city’s investment in Kings Square.”