The $7 million tourism initiativet, which includes 10 5-star cabins and a 40-seat ocean front cafe - was unanimously passed with minor amendments at the July Council meeting, despite a petition detailing trader concerns regarding unfair competition.
The fight appears far from over, however, with the operators, including key accommodation houses and eateries, now seeking government intervention to halt the project and Bellarine MP Lisa Neville already threatening to withdraw her government’s $2.69m funding contribution.
“As business owners in Hesse Street, we embrace development, however we have grave concerns about the proposed 40 seat café at Shortland’s Bluff and major development works outlined in the Destination Vision and Brief and the impact this will have on the established cafes, restaurants and other businesses in the retail heart of Queenscliff,” the petition said.
“We wish to make clear that we are not resistant to change and development in Queenscliff per se; however, we firmly believe your current plans dissects the town and further, you must take into consideration the need to lift and revitalise Hesse Street before reinvesting in any development at the ferry terminal or on Shortland’s Bluff. Hesse Street is the hub and heart of Queenscliff and deserves attention.”
A 2016 financial analysis of the Destination Queenscliff, prepared by Urban Enterprise, predicted it would boost the local economy by more than $12 million and create 77 direct and indirect local jobs.
The Council, however, has failed to date to provide an assessment of its direct impact on other businesses.
“Our concerns with the master plan include the absence of any financial analysis or information about the impact the tax payer funded café/kiosk and high end lodgings will have on existing businesses – in particular the cafes, restaurants and accommodation providers across the Borough [and the] lack of consultation with the local businesses and residents most likely to be affected by the development plans prior to the Master Plan’s release,” the petition said.
Frustrations were evident when Mayor Susan Salter, Acting CEO Phil Carruthers and General Manager Planning and Infrastructure,Phil Josipovic, fronted upwards of 20 business operators at the Shelter Shed Cafe on Wednesday July 24.
Cafe owner Donnie Grigau described the consultation process to date as an “abject failure,” while Circa 1902's Chris Dinneen accused Council of putting Hesse Street traders second.
“As a newcomer the temperature that I’m feeling is that the traders in the main street are feeling left behind. Council is putting money in and book-ending the town basically to our detriment,” he said.
“There needs to be a more personal relationship that really honours and respects the people in the main street... it seems like [we’re] an after thought and we’d prefer to be a forethought.”
In fending off the criticism, Mr Carruthers said the project would attract more tourists to the town and provide a level of accommodation not currently available.
“This will bring new people into the town that don’t currently come to the town because it’s a different market.
“We’re not looking at competing with existing town properties, we’re looking at getting new people in. They’ll come here and they’ll come into town, they’ll walk around, they won’t sit in their room,” he said.
Traders were due to meet with Ms Neville this week, and, with Canberra contributing $3.5 million to the project, have also stepped up pressure on Corangamite MP Sarah Henderson.
“They [Council] need to do it properly, I absolutely agree. I am concerned if they haven’t properly taken those traders through what the business and financial assessments were, they absolutely should do that and if they’re not willing to do that, I’ll get RDV (Regional Development Victoria), because it’s an RDV-funded project… to do that.
“My view is if they haven’t done it properly, if they don’t do all of that properly, then we would go back and push them to it," Ms Neville said.
"If you think of all of the issues that the borough has had over the last three years, they've all come down to the fact that they’ve decided they’re just going to ram raid their way through it all, do their own thing and not engage people properly.
"Let’s not do that again, let’s start early with the community and let’s have the community enaged throught this process properly," she said.
The design for the Shortland’s Bluff precinct, prepared by Hassell Studio and revealed at recent Open House sessions, includes: 10 Council-managed cabins within the Recreation Reserve – replacing an existing seven - new Council-owned ocean-front cafe-kiosk, walking trails, revamped car parking at the Bull Ring, a ship spotting platform, visitor information facility and light activations on the Fort of Queenscliff walls.
Letters obtained under Freedom of Information show support for the project from big local businesses players; Searoad Ferries, Beacon Big Four Resort, Queenscliff Harbour, Geelong and Bellarine Tourism.
Cr Tony Francis, in his previous role of Chamber of Commerce CEO, also penned a glowing letter of endorsement, but said he was not conflicted by the stance and remained open-minded about the project.
MEANWHILE - An assessment of the community's support for the project has been rubbished by local community groups.
The Kismet report measured sentiment from Open House consultations, a community survey and public submissions. Twenty two submissions were lodged. A further 122 people completed a project survey.
Kismet concluded 69 per cent of participants generally supported Destination Queenscliff.
However, the Queenscliff Community Association (QCA) said the analysis failed to take into account the membership of it and other organisations opposed to the plan.
"It is our understanding that the Community and Civic Associations and other environmental groups boasting over 100 strong memberships each were counted as one submission," the Association said.