Luke Saraceni is understood to be finalising a proposal whereby he could take over the beleaguered Port Geographe development in Busselton, amid talk the state government is close to committing funds to rebuild the seaside project’s troublesome ocean groynes.
Sources close to the project suggest Mr Saraceni is working with fledgling merchant bank Sirona Capital on a deal that could enable him to form a partnership to buy out Axiom Properties’ 40 per cent stake in the oceanside development, along with Macquarie Bank’s interest.
Mr Saraceni has a 60 per cent stake in Port Geographe through MacSea Nominees, a joint venture with Macquarie Bank.
Axiom holds a 40 per cent interest in Port Geographe through subsidiary Tallwood Nominees, which was put into the hands of administrators in August.
Sirona has formed a close alliance with Mr Saraceni in recent months, buying two of his properties, including a 270-hectare parcel of land in Bullsbrook and the Myer property in the heart of Fremantle’s retail precinct.
The Port Geographe development stalled in 2009 after being plagued for years by the build-up of seagrass and sediment along its ocean groynes and beaches.
A University of Western Australia study commissioned by the Department of Transport and the Shire of Busselton earlier this year outlined a number of key changes necessary to stop the seagrass from accumulating on the beaches.
The build-up of seagrass has been so severe this winter it has choked the marina, trapping boats and further damaging the facility’s reputation.
Bob Godridge has run the marina at Port Geographe for about six years, in which time he estimated he had lost “hundred of thousands of dollars” to the annual build-up of seagrass.
Mr Godridge said boats were getting stuck in the weed and, as a consequence, the reputation of the marina was under attack.
“I had an example only yesterday where a member of Fremantle sailing club was talking to one of our marina partners … and said there’s no point coming down to Port Geographe because you can’t get in,” he said.
“Now that’s not true [that there’s no access] but that’s the perception and we have lived with that for a long time.”
It’s understood work to clear the marina is scheduled to begin this week and a tender has been awarded to remove the accumulated weed from the beaches.
But what residents and business owners like Mr Godridge want is a start date for the reconfiguration of the groynes.
Sources close to the project suggest the work to alter the groynes could cost up to $40 million and it’s believed the state government plans to recoup at least part of this cost.
Just how this could be achieved is unclear.
It’s unlikely Mr Saraceni and Sirona’s bid for the project would include the cost of rebuilding the groynes, but there could be some sort of financial trade off that would part-fund the works.
There have also been persistent rumours that LandCorp could take over the project but the government maintains it has only acted only as an adviser to it on this matter.
Peter Maccora is chair of the Port Geographe Action Group, and along with Mr Godridge he has been fighting to remedy the weed problem for close to a decade.
While Mr Maccora believes the state government had recognised the importance of altering the groynes to stop the seagrass, he is anxious to get a firm timeline for work.
Department of Transport project manager James Holder would not make any comment on the groynes but he did reveal the government was in talks to try and find a solution to the problems at Port Geographe.
“The state government and the Shire of Busselton are currently engaged in complex commercial negotiations with the administration and the project financiers to reach a long term solution to the issues at Port Geographe,” Mr Holder said.
“Timelines and funding arrangements are yet to be agreed.”