THE Fremantle Arts Centre’s cafe is vacant for the first time in over a decade, with the council under fire over its treatment of the former operators.
Canvas Café owners Triet and Loan had operated out of the leafy Arts Centre space for 11 years, but served their last coffee on August 7 after the council told them they couldn’t simply renew their lease and it would be opened up for other businesses to put in an expression of interest.
Under the City of Fremantle’s competitive leasing program, council-leased properties must be opened to public expressions of interest at the end of a long-term lease, although it makes an exception for businesses that pay market rates and provide a significant benefit to the community.
According to a Fremantle council spokesperson, Triet and Loan were invited to submit an application, but declined.
“Their existing lease came to an end and, under the terms of our Competitive Leasing Policy, the city is required call for Expressions of Interest from businesses to take up the lease – Canvas Café did not submit an EOI for this next period,” he said.
The council is accepting expressions of interest until September 9, more than a month after Canvas’s closure, and with a fitout for a new operator needed, it means the art centre is likely to be without a permanent café for several months.
That prompted criticism that the council had muffed the transition.
According to the Fremantle Arts Centre website, the café is “temporarily closed for renovations”, to reopen soon under new management. The council didn’t respond when the Chook asked if the renovations had been scheduled prior to the café being vacant, or if the sign had been a good cover story when it failed to secure new management.
The café at the nearby Fremantle Leisure Centre has also been empty for 14 months, with the council unable to find new operators.
According to a Fremantle Arts Centre staff member, who didn’t want to be named, the loss of the popular café had been “upsetting” for patrons.
“It was a special meeting place for the community, so there is definitely some real disappointment that it is gone,” they said.
Jacqui Weir Snelgar, a long-time customer of Canvas Café, labelled the council’s decision “extremely disappointing”.
“My grandmother and I would quite often have breakfast there through the week; food and service was always spot on and the garden area was always beautiful,” she said.
“I did really hope they would change their minds and leave it be.
“I feel closing Canvas Café is a big loss to the area and the arts centre. It was just as much a drawcard as any of the exhibitions or activities that are held there,” she said.
During the cafe’s closure The White Rabbit coffee van is operating on the Arts Centre grounds, ensuring patrons can at least get a hot drink and food.
Staff of The White Rabbit said their reception had been “positive,” despite the public’s frustration at the closure of Canvas Café.
“People are obviously disappointed that the café is gone, but they have been very warm to us, and the Arts Centre has been very welcoming,” one said.
Canvas Café was contacted by the Herald but they didn’t call back.
by HENRY SCURRY