The visitor experience at Tocumwal is at risk according to a faction of community members who are lobbying against concept designs for a new foreshore development.
The modern, two-storey concept is expected to have space for two eateries, a traditional shop space and a tourist information outlet which appears to represent just four per cent of the total floor space.
Plans for the new building were released by council last week, ahead of the formal public exhibition phase, as part of the Tocumwal Economic Revitalisation project.
Tocumwal Chamber of Commerce called a public meeting on the proposal on Sunday, and its president Sergio Redegalli said one resolution of the meeting was to petition council to alter the designs.
He said while the project overall has its merits, it must be done in the right way to drive tourism and protect existing business and services.
Mr Redegalli said one of the biggest concerns community members are expressing is a ‘‘poor use of space’’, and particularly the ‘‘too small’’ visitor information space.
‘‘The design is absolutely horrible. The majority of the community members (who attended the meeting) are against the design of the building and we need to get it back on track,’’ Mr Redegalli said.
‘‘The biggest insult is the allocation of a shoebox for the information centre.
‘‘The volunteers who do a fantastic job in promoting not just Tocumwal but the shire have been starting a shopfront selling local produce and goods, but they would have no space and no opportunity to peruse this interesting business venture in this new building.
‘‘It is just another part of the disastrous design.
‘‘If it is not suitable for them, chamber and the community will have to rally around them to find another solution.’’
Figures provided by the visitor information centre state that 8,622 people passed through the doors of the existing information centre in 2019.
Berrigan Shire Council general manager Rowan Perkins said while all elements of the plan will be up for debate during the public exhibition phase, council believes the space allocated to the visitor information centre is ‘‘an adequate size to their needs’’.
‘‘The space the information centre has at the moment is excess to what it needs, and we believe the new space will be adequate,’’ he said.
‘‘We have been talking with the volunteers at the information centre through this process.
‘‘Originally, there was no space for them in the proposed building. Through discussion, it has been included at a later date.
‘‘But council is about to go through a development application process, so changes to the design could come from submissions.’’
Mr Perkins said the aim of the new facility, which is part of a holistic Tocumwal Foreshore redevelopment, is to attract visitors and boost the local economy.
He said council will now start a process to attract tenants for the three commercial spaces to be created.
‘‘We are hoping this will attract more visitors, which would sustain our local businesses,’’ Mr Perkins said.
‘‘Since the splash park was installed, some businesses have already seen significant improvements in business by attracting more locals and visitors from then region.
‘‘From this, we are hoping and expect the building will bring in $5.8 million additional economic value to the local economy.’’
Mr Redegalli said while such business ventures would be important to the community in the future, he feels now is not the right time to be placing competitive pressure on existing businesses.
‘‘The business community has been fearful of the plans for another restaurant opening up, which is outlined in the plans, because it will create more competition that is not needed from a business perspective especially in a drought and now the bushfires,’’ he said.
‘‘The business chamber has managed to help ease people’s concern because while they may build it, they might not get a tenant.
‘‘To add insult to the business community of Tocumwal, council have added another kitchen on the ground floor, even after the complaints about the impacts the restaurant at the top would have on them.’’
‘‘We do acknowledge that in five or 10 years Tocumwal will be successful again and have a need for extra restaurants and shops, but for now we don’t.’’
Mr Perkins said formal submissions on the project are expected to open in coming weeks.
‘‘Council has put these plans on display way before the development application process so you have the opportunity to form an opinion and make a submission during the formal process,’’ Mr Perkins said.
‘‘I am urging people to acknowledge the facts of this building.
‘‘I want to remind people that what you are looking at is not what it will look like, it is just the shape of the building. The exterior cladding and town square concepts are yet to be considered.’’