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The elephant in the room also has a long memory

Back when Paul Anderson was the General Manager of Eurobodalla Council (2008 to 2012) there were discussions about the council buying the old bowling club site because they knew it was coming available. In 2009, the Batemans Bay Bowling Club amalgamated with Club Catalina, in a bid to ensure its survival. At a Council meeting on 26th June 2012 Councillor Allan Brown advised that “there are business people in the Batemans Bay CBD who have had a visit from a campaigning Councillor who apparently has relayed to them when Council takes over the Batemans Bay Bowling Club and redevelops it a heated swimming pool will be part of the redevelopment plans. Councillor Allan Brown advised as far as he was aware the elected Councillors hadn’t discussed development plans or ideas for the Batemans Bay Bowling Club and asked Council staff to explain what had occurred to date with any discussions about the Batemans Bay Bowling Club (source) Then Mayor Fergus Thomson advised there had been basic talks, "nothing of any great depth.The Catalina Club wants to keep bowling in Batemans Bay and there will be ongoing discussions." In September 2012 Clr Lindsay Brown began his second term with Eurobodalla Shire Council taking over as Mayor from Fergus Thomson. In November 2012 Eurobodalla Mayor Lindsay Brown accepted the General Manager, Paul Anderson’s resignation. By March 2013 the Batemans Bay Bowling Club were forced to close their doors following a review in early 2013 the Catalina Country Club executive identified an unsustainable decrease in the bowling club’s turnover. The three years had seen the club devalued by an estimated $6 million in greens buildings, poker machine licences and assets. In 2014, two years after being elected, during a workshop that looked at developing an overarching Batemans Bay "Mudmap" and idea, previously floated by General Manager Jim Levy was put on the table again. The idea was to relocate the Visitor Information Centre, locate a town Bus station bus that would accommodate local and interstate buses while also providing other public facilities that would earn rental. While this was being talked about Council had already committed to building an aquatic and arts centre at Hanging Rock and had already moved a motion to install a Project manager to assemble tenders for the work so that funding could be pursued. While the Hanging Rock project had been approved in principle to include a 25m pool there was no statement in regards to the long term plans for the existing 50m pool at Mackay Park. At that time Council had no endorsed Aquatic Pool Strategy in place. At the time of the 2013 motion Council was not formally considering purchasing the Bowling Club site as it was not on the market. At a Batemans Bay Community Meeting held on 11 October 2015 - Questions from the Floor Tony Beauchamp asked about the appearance of Batemans Bay saying it was dowdy in some areas such as the old bowling club offering a poor first impression of the town. Was there any proposal for a joint venture to develop the site? Mayor Lindsay Brown's response was: "We have had discussions regarding the old bowling club but nothing has happened to date. We hope the land will be developed and tidied up. We can encourage community members, power of people, to contact the Catalina Club." Maureen Kinross asked "What can be done?" The response from the Mayor was "there is the power of the public. I did see workers cleaning up there recently."

Antoinette Skinner asked "Can Council approach the Catalina Country Club to make the Batemans Bay Bowling Club site into an aquatic centre?" The response of the Mayor, knowing full well that Council had already committed to the Hanging Rock Aquatic Centre project, and having already been petitioned by the Bay Chamber to buy the site for a year, was "we have had discussions with the Catalina Country Club. The future of the site is in their hands." The Beagle has heard that an offer was made around this time to the Catalina Country Club by a Sydney football club wanting to take over the bowling Club site and revitalise the area in a similar vein to its highly profitable and socially inclusive metropolitan premises and facilities. It is also understood that the offer was declined. It is speculated that the offer was declined because having such a reputable and highly successful Club in the same area would be financial suicide for the Catalina Club that was thought to also be showing signs of the universal decline in golf club membership across the country. It is understood that the Catalina Country Club was in need of financial support. The bowling club site was listed for sale.There had been previous measures to improve the old building by renovations and extensions. It is understood Councillors were privvy to the professional opinion that was offered at the time that the building was non-recoverable and needed to be bulldozed and, at best, the property was worth only $1.4 million for the land component. Eurobodalla Council purchased the Bowling Club site following behind-door agreement during a Council meeting that showed no agenda item nor recorded the decision in its live streaming video or its minutes.. It is understood that councillors at the time privately remarked that they had little option but to endorse the purchase. It turns out however that they did have a choice. The motion to buy the club was won by only one vote during a confidential session on April 26th 2016. For the record Brown, Innes, Schwartz and Burnside voted to purchase and Brice, Harding and Leslight voted against - Pollock was absent. At the time it was reported in the Bay Post that the Batemans Bay Chamber of Commerce and Club Catalina were delighted with the sale of the Batemans Bay Bowling Club site to Eurobodalla Shire Council. “It is really good to see strategic piece of real estate stay in the hands of the community,” Catalina Country Club president Phil Hardy said. Batemans Bay Chamber of Commerce president Allan Rutherford said the chamber was “very happy” about the sale. “We have been lobbying council for 18 months to buy the site,” he said. “It has been a long process.” However, Eurobodalla Mayor Lindsay Brown said it was not a matter of council procrastinating on the purchase. “It wasn’t as though council didn’t want to buy it,” he said. “It has been a complicated process and we have been looking for the right sale,” he said. It is also understood that they were not provided with the financials and that the Audit and Risk Committee had not been consulted to give their approval of the purchase. This is still to be verified though anecdotally it appears that no formal consultation with the Audit and Risk committee was sought. On Friday 29 April 2016 Council announced in a media release it had purchased the former Batemans Bay Bowling Club “after months of confidential property negotiations”. “Council purchased the club on Friday for $2.7 million dollars (excluding GST) after giving General Manager Dr Catherine Dale delegation to start negotiations last year, and agreeing to the purchase price at a confidential meeting earlier this week.” Mayor Lindsay Brown said ”Purchasing this strategic site is a financially responsible investment into the future of Batemans Bay and the shire.”. “There has been strong support for Council to purchase this site for some time” But how responsible an investment is it and exactly what, if any, community consultation revealed the “strong support” that Mayor Brown justified the purchase by? Surely being lobbied for eighteen months and the general manger being given "delegation to start negotiations last year" this possible purchase ties in with the special rate variation submission in February 2015 with Council knowing full well it was crying poor on one hand yet wanted to purchase the Batemans Bay Bowling Club site and pay TOP dollar for it while also paying for it with an inter-generational loan of $2m that would further burden Eurobodalla ratepayers. It is understood by The Beagle that the metropolitan football club who made an offer to buy the site from the Catalina Country Club made an offer to Eurobodalla Council soon after the purchase and that their offer was $300,000 above the $2.7 million paid by Council. At the time of purchase Council held a valuation document that said the site was worth $3.4m inclusive of the building There appears to be a conflict of information about the freehold land that the bowling club sits on. The Catalina Country Club Ltd.2015 - 2016 Annual Report stated the land is burdened by a riparian corridor and that this was was highlighted as a contract killer when they tried to sell the property. In their report they clearly say "This corridor restricts development within 40 metres of the high water line and resulted in a 30 percent reduction in available land and that the Catalina Country Club was in negotiations with another possible purchaser. The annual report very clearly states "During these negotiations a riparian corridor was highlighted as a contract killer... The deal fell through...." But a council staff member claims that 'they lied". So who do we believe. The Catalina Country Club annual report or an off-the-cuff comment by a Council staff member. So there we have it. The promises of a councillor in the lead up to an election spruiking "Vote for me and I will build new complex including pool on the whole site and we can have a gateway project". A councillor with obvious support from the chamber of commerce and the Catalina Board added further encouragement to support with the idea of purchasing the Bowling Club site. However when the costs came in for the Gateway that would see development on both Bowling Club site and the old pool site the new councillors said it was all too expensive a path to go down so they moved to the pool assured that the Bowling Club site would either be sold off or become a hint of what they might want as a Gateway because of planning conditions and requirements. And what of Hanging Rock ... all we know is that one councillor has commented "we couldn’t justify the expense $14m to re-arrange the tennis courts". As to where the figure of $14m to move tennis courts is unknown however the councillor must have been advised of this figure by someone. Now we have Council roaring ahead on a $51m project that has many in the community left behind in the wake with the very big question around how we can afford to run, maintain and renew such a gift of the gods when there is no maintenance budget attached to the grants.

#Opinion #Editorial #LeiParker

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