20/03/2007 - 22:00

Foreshore focus must have true vision

20/03/2007 - 22:00

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I very much appreciate state opposition leader Paul Omodei focusing attention back on the Perth foreshore.

I very much appreciate state opposition leader Paul Omodei focusing attention back on the Perth foreshore.

This has been an unresolved area of public policy for close to two decades  and it is time for someone to say they are actually going to do something.

I also appreciate Mr Omodei’s thoughts, outlined in a transcript I read of a speech he delivered earlier this week, proposing hotels be placed between the river and the convention centre to create a landmark entertainment and hospitality zone.

I am glad to the see emphasis taken away from housing for the first time. While this long-discussed issue of foreshore development has lived on in many people’s imaginations, it has evolved to include a residential component.

I have a huge issue with residential space being given a major place in any development of this type.

It may well help pay the bills, but I question the need to link permanent living quarters with entertainment zones.

It may work in New York. But in Western Australia the experience of the hospitality sector is that, when people move in to live, they bring problems with them.

The Old Swan Brewery, Hudson Galley and the Grosvenor Hotel are places that I recall have had significant issues with local residents. There are numerous other examples.

So, in my view, all power to Mr Omodei if he can make something happen down on the Swan in front of our central business district.

But it’s not all ticks for Mr Omodei, in my view.

In the plans he has, as I understand them, he wants to create two other Swan River precincts – and arts and cultural area at East Perth’s former power station, and a sports complex at Burswood.

I take issue with both of these plans.

We already have a major arts and culture precinct in Northbridge, housing an art gallery, a museum, a library, and soon a new theatre. All this is within walking distance of our CBD, many major hotels, the central train station and a busy nightlife area.

Sure, Northbridge could be improved, but that is cosmetic – and may well be solved by simply directing more traffic there.

The old East Perth power station might be an asset waiting to happen, but we ought to be careful shoving our arts and culture into a precinct near no-one.

The same argument could be mounted for the sports complex, but in this case it’s not near no-one, it’s near just one someone – Burswood.

It would be a little dangerous, in my view, to offer so much to one player in our hospitality industry, unless the redevelopment of Belmont Park is planned to coincide with such a development and would include major entertainment areas located near the stadiums, well away from residential areas and yet having enough local activity to sustain them when a major sports event was not taking place.

Otherwise we’ll end up with visitors lurching out of the complex, looking the full span of the horizon and finding nothing there.

We’ve already achieved that at the convention centre, we don’t need another version…with or without the fantasy that water taxis are somehow going to keep all these locations connected.

I’ve had a great deal of good fortune in being able to travel the world and one thing I’ve learned is, the closer you can put all your entertainment assets, the better.

For tourists, it means they can find a choice to fit their needs easily and are more likely to stumble across something going on.

For locals, it creates a zone that is self-perpetuating with constant activity, rather than places that are lively on occasion and dead the rest of the time.

Dead places destroy spontaneity, are less attractive to good hospitality businesses and have a habit of becoming quite unwelcoming when unused.

The biggest challenge in all of this is, what to do with the sporting complexes?

They are big monoliths that are usually empty most of the year. When they are used, they create bumper crowds that frustrate local residents due to noise, anti-social behaviour and parking issues.

My big question in the sporting area debate is whether the crowd concerns warrant the creation of sterilised precinct where people just turn up to the game and leave.

Subiaco suffers from issues relating to local residents, but it has the advantage of great entertainment area that offers the crowds something to do after the games.

It is something that many other sporting venues can’t offer, especially those modern concrete wind tunnels plonked in out-of-way areas…like what Sydney has post-Olympics. It is soulless.

In terms of value-adding to the sporting experience for both tourists and locals, Subiaco is head and shoulders above most other venues in Perth I can think of. We ought to be trying to make more Subiacos, not getting rid of it.

Thankfully, preserving Subi seems to be happening.

If the biggest issue is crowd behaviour, that is a role that governments ought to take control of through education and policing.

It is wrong to take away the experience of post-sports euphoria due to anti-social behaviour, people who can’t use public transport or because some residents just don’t like crowds.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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