A “NEGOTIATED” settlement will see the owners of Sorrento’s Continental Hotel save $19,000 over three years to use a public footpath for outdoor dining.
The agreement adopted by Mornington Peninsula Shire on Tuesday 5 April comes five months after councillors voted to charge the hotel $133,000 for the first three years of its use of the footpath.
But the hotel refused and, after negotiations with shire CEO John Baker last month, has now agreed to pay $114,000 for the same time span.
The agreement means the hotel will pay $38,000 rent for each of the first three years of its use of the footpath, instead of the $38,000, $45,000 and $50,000 ordered by councillors in December.
Cr Susan Bissinger praised Mr Baker for doing a “sterling job to get a lovely sort of even-spaced result here”.
She said the owners of the Continental Hotel had taken a “a bit of a gamble”, spending “between $120 and $150 million” on its redevelopment.
“… Then to have certain people … instead of trying to encourage them to do well, wanting to further make this a difficult situation is … I just find it really unbelievable, especially in this climate.”
Cr Bissinger said the Continental was “a really worthwhile venue for people to come from all over Australia and all over the world to see, and I don’t think we should be making it more difficult for them”.
She urged “everyone” to visit the Continental – “a beautiful resort-type venue that is just amazing”.
Cr David Gill said councillors should have insisted that the hotel pay the rent they approved in December.
“I see it as a business transaction based on what the market will bear. If we’re moving away from that it’s favouritism in a sense,” he said.
He saw Mr Baker’s recommendation to charge $38,000 for the first three years as “a far inferior decision”.
“I cannot understand why we’ve had this sort of change and what sort of negotiation that we had,” Cr Gill said.
He said the shire should “get the full benefit” of allowing the use of public land “and not lower it for whatever reasons; I can’t understand what reasons there could be”.
“This is not your local shop and it’s not someone who’s asking for tables and chairs to be put out to help them survive.
“This is a major enterprise with a huge income to come in future years and I think our ratepayers … should be looking at a commensurate return.”
Cr Lisa Dixon said the rent “can be reviewed down the track, so it’s not an end of the road deal”.
“We shouldn’t be discriminating against big business or small business. It should be on the basis of a business operating on the peninsula.
“We asked the CEO to negotiate on council’s behalf and I believe this is disappointing not putting trust in his ability to come back to us with a reasonable outcome.”
Cr Gill said smaller businesses had temporary use of footpaths and outside of those times “people can use those areas and they’re not shut up and shut off to the public”.
Without giving any examples Cr Gill warned that “councillors have to be very careful in these situations regarding pecuniary interest and declarations. I just bring that up for your consideration without having any more to say about it”.
“But I understand there is some background to that in terms of invitations and I’m not sure whether declarations don’t mean that you have to leave the room during a debate, but I’m not making a view on that, but it is something I’m always aware of.”
Although now up and running, rent for the hotel’s outdoor dining area will not start to be charged until July.
Work was allowed to continue on the outdoor dining area despite the hold up in agreement as it had been “included in the original planning permit for the site”, the shire’s development services manager David Simon told The News.
Nepean Ratepayers’ Association president Colin Watson has previously said the $38,000 to $50,000 annual fees proposed in December were “well below market value” (“Paving the way for dining out” The News 15/3/22).
He said the $38,000 first year rent equated to $104.10 a day, or 60 cents a day for each of the 172 seats.