Lisa and Malcolm White had no plans to give up their beach business in WA’s south west, but an ongoing battle with the local council left them feeling it was their only option.
- Koombana Bay is the focus of Bunbury’s new tourism development
- The former operators of a cafe there say they left because of uncertainty about their lease
- A petition has started to oppose moving the visitor center from the CBD to Koombana Bay
They made the decision to walk away from the Hello Summer Cafe kiosk at Koombana Bay in June after losing faith in the tender process run by the City of Bunbury.
The Whites started a five-year lease in 2015, but business was often interrupted by the city’s multi-million-dollar redevelopment of the bay area.
“With the foreshore upgrade we had to be out of the kiosk and the council decided to terminate us,” Ms White said.
“We had to get legal advice and a lawyer and then they had to put us back in there.”
City of Bunbury chief executive Mal Osborne said the Whites had been offered a one-year lease extension and two twelve-month options beyond that, but had chosen not to accept.
‘Time and effort’
Ms White said while the company was given one-year leases from 2020 as a concession for the months they had to close for the redevelopment of the site, they wanted the security of a five-year lease.
“They told us it would take a long time for that bidding process to be completed … ours [existing] the lease was well and truly up at that point,” she said.
“So we decided to just sell everything and go.”
Ms White said they were disappointed to leave after building the business for seven years.
“We had put a lot of time and effort into making the business the successful cafe it was,” she said.
“I felt very sad because we had a lot of support from the community.”
Open market solution is preferred
In a statement, Mr Osborne said the Whites had been invited to apply for the five-year lease through an open market process.
“The city was not prepared to enter into a new lease while there was a term remaining on the current lease and with the option to go to the open market to get the best possible outcome for the community,” Mr Osborne said.
“In response to the city’s decision, the tenant indicated that they would terminate the lease and vacate the lease two months early without taking the additional 12-month option.”
The municipality this week awarded a new lease for the cafe, which has now been empty for months.
Visitor center anger
The city is also facing backlash over a plan to move its visitor center to the same area.
Mayor Jaysen De San Miguel threatened to call the police after members of the public became angry at Tuesday night’s council meeting over plans to move the Bunbury Visitor Center to a new site at Koombana Bay.
While the council claims the move represents the best possible outcome for the community and will boost Koombana Bay, local businesses are concerned it will draw foot traffic away from Bunbury’s CBD.
A petition against the move had garnered 170 signatures as of Friday.
The old visitor center at the former railway station in the CBD was closed more than a year ago due to concerns about anti-social behaviour.
Former tour operator Brian Rettinger said moving the visitor center to Koombana Bay was not a good idea.
“The vast majority of visitors are in the Bunbury CBD, staying in our hotels, attending events, going to our shops or cafes or visiting our local businesses acting as tourism ambassadors,” he said.
Sir. De San Miguel emphasized that Koombana Bay was the CBD, but said he accepted that people had strong opinions.
“Obviously we’re always going to have some very passionate people who think very strongly about what certain positions should be,” he said.
The visitor center has been temporarily operating from the City of Bunbury offices.