News

Wistaria tenants are now facing ‘eviction’ from port

by
April 14, 2017

ANOTHER long-term tenant of a Port of Echuca business could be dumped in favour of a new applicant.

Wistaria has received a letter from council informing its owners their lease ends in September, at which point it will be open to expressions of interest.

Campaspe Shire chief executive Jason Russell said Wistaria could re-apply.

‘‘Council has openly provided details of current leases in the Port area and when each is due to expire,’’ he said.

‘‘As outlined in the lease conditions, council must advise the lessee six months prior of its expiry date. This has recently been done. As advised earlier, council and the lessee have had discussions over the past fortnight about the lease.

‘‘In regards to any expression of interest process, anyone can apply, and any current lessee would be encouraged to do so.’’

If Wistaria are given the boot, it will not be the first time an old tenant has been farewelled in preference of a new one.

As part of an overall recommendation, council confirmed the EOI process for the leasing and licensing of council-owned or managed properties, moorings and mooring infrastructure within the Port of Echuca precinct in September last year.

First it was the Oberin family, who lost the Oscar W’s building to Paul Jarman, a councillor at the time. But that was after the first process gave it to the Oberins and then an anomaly was discovered and the process repeated.

This time by council and this time it was then councillor Jarman who was given the nod.

Steeped in controversy, council invited the inspectorate to investigate, which found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Some time later the same process — without the anomaly — was followed for the Bridge Hotel.

Tenants at the time Briony Parkinson and Terry McIntyre lost the expression of interest, making room for David Grubb who has since re-opened as Henry’s.

At the time Mr McIntyre, who applied to remain the tenant, said he was not bitter about the decision, however, he was concerned about how it was made.

‘‘As far as I’m concerned the decision was already made,’’ Mr McIntyre said.

‘‘First it was Oscar’s, now us, who’s next?’’

As it turned out, it was Wistaria’s turn.

Wistaria has been trading for 15 years and is leased by Eric Grumont and current councillor Annie Vickers.

There is speculation around town that instead of re-leasing this particular building, council will sell it, in a rate capping environment where money is tight.

Mr Russell said council would refrain from commenting on gossip or speculation.

Ross Veale, a former operator of the Bridge Hotel, did not comment specifically on the leasing process.

But said he did believe there was a lot of work to be done to return the Port of Echuca to its former glory.

He listed more than 10 attractions no longer in the Port that were successful ventures such as the working red gum saw mill, aquarium, animal farm, working pottery, wax works, Forest Fantasies and Buster and the Cocky.

And believed the Port authority — which was made up of community members and disbanded in 2009 — could bring the Port back to what it was.

‘‘It worked very successfully and it was people who cared and lived here and loved the place,’’ Mr Veale said.

‘‘I don’t think it will happen but it should. Where community had an input instead of having bureaucrats run it . . . bureaucrats shouldn’t be running business.’’

Mr Veale said there was no ‘‘heart and soul’’ in the port.

‘‘It’s just an empty shell . . . it hasn’t got the feel, smell and touch to it,’’ he said. ‘‘If you take the paddlesteamers away from here you’d have absolutely nothing . . . that’s what worries me.

‘‘I’m not sure where we are going. It seems to me we are going up and down in the one spot.’’

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