Criticisms ring out as Belltower fails to impress

IT was touted as a centrepiece of tourism for the State, a link between the city and the river crowned by an iconic structure designed to draw travellers by the thousand.

Yet the $21 million dollar redevelopment of Barrack Square, including the controversial Belltower, has failed to draw the crowds.

After enduring months of construction and a big downturn in the tourism market, some of Barrack Square’s tenants are starting to hurt, citing a litany of problems.

Among their complaints are high rents, parking difficulty, poor access for tourist coaches, poor lighting and a general lack of access to the jetties – the lifeblood of an area.

At least one major operator has collapsed and even the charity managing the tower is looking to find a private operator in a bid to inject some life into the high-profile destination. But not everyone is complaining. Captain Cook Cruises claims to have experienced an increase in business, albeit following the collapse of its main rival and Barrack Square neighbour, Boat Torque.

At the time WA Business News went to press, Captain Cook Cruises was finalising a deal to buy some of Boat Torque’s key assets.

One of the most vocal complainants to the redevelopment is Bill Edgar.

Mr Edgar, who owns Golden Sun Cruises and Friendly Fish, is seeking to reduce his rent. He said many of the redevelopment’s plans had not seen the light of day.

“It was meant to bring tourism into the area and be the centrepiece of WA tourism; and it’s far from it,” Mr Edgar said.

“We were told certain things would happen and they haven’t.

“Air-conditioning, the completion of buildings, paving, lighting, they are among the many things that haven’t happened.

“There needs to be more parking; there is the availability for 200 car bays.”

There are currently 38 bays at Barrack Square, 17 less than the original plan.

Chairman of the Swan Bells Foundation, Alastair Bryant, conceded that something needed to be done to increase visitor numbers as much as 10-fold. He said access to the jetty was a major issue.

“We are working towards getting all parties together about improving access to the jetty. From Main Roads, City of Perth, Department of Planning of Infrastructure, we want to get them together as soon as we can,” Mr Bryant said.

“We have gone through a process to get expressions of interest for the Belltower and refined the number down to a strong field that will go to restricted request for a proposal.”

That proposal will be advertised this weekend, inviting those who submitted an expression of interest to proffer a detailed plan to increase visitor numbers to the site. It is hoped a private operator will be managing the site by the end of September.

Department of Planning and Infrastructure acting-director coastal management Cleve Flottmann said rent was determined by an independent licensed valuer and determined by market value.

Mr Flottmann said the department was currently negotiating with the City of Perth to increase parking, but that it would only be around 18 bays.

Captain Cook Cruises managing director Tony Baker said the redevelopment had helped his business.

“We have been very pleased with the redevelopment. It has made the jetty facilities much better and has increased the comfort for our passengers,” he said.

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