Family cafe owners had little choice but to walk away after the City of Bunbury lease dispute at Koombana Bay

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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.

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.”

A cafe by the beach, exterior view of the building illuminated at night.
Hello Summer Cafe before its closure in June.(Provided by: Malcolm and Lisa White)

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.”

Chairs, stools and umbrellas in a shop
Malcolm and Lisa White made the decision to walk away from the business and sell their equipment.(Provided by: Lisa and Malcolm White)

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.

An aerial view of a coastal town
A group of local retailers have started a petition opposing the decision to move the visitor center to Koombana Bay.(ABC South West: Gian De Poloni)

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.

A long lens shot of a bus station
The listed former railway station where the Bunbury Visitor Center had previously been located.(ABC South West: Gian De Poloni)

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.

A man in a blue collared shirt standing in front of Bunbury Tower
The city’s mayor, Jaysen De San Miguel, says there are strong opinions about the visitor center.(ABC South West WA: Anthony Pancia)

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.

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