A quick look at commercial premises currently on the market for lease in the Batemans Bay CBD area reveals an average square metre rate of somewhere between $170 and $400psm. Covid and bushfires have hit the Batemans Bay commercial precinct hard with many shopfronts and offices closed for months on end. For many the legal requirement to meet rent obligations, closed or otherwise, will further damage the commercial health of the Bay CBD. There is a new player to the Bay however, offering discounted rentals on office space and filling a niche that provides casual leasing without a bond, with no contract, no exit clause and for half the price of the cheapest commercial rentals in town. Introducing EuroLease It is now understood that Council is charging around $70 per square metre to rent out rooms at the Batemans Bay Community Centre. Only a month or so ago they were caught out wanting to lease the entire building to an agency. On revelation the third party withdrew when it became common knowledge that the community were being kicked out of their own community centre so that Council could derive income from the community owned building. Initially they ventured to lease it at market rates however, having been discovered, they are now pussy-footing around the edges leasing out rooms rather than the building as a whole while they process Expressions of Interest that they have called for from potential lessees. Council's justification for calling on these EOI's is that they have been solicited by outside businesses seeking to lease or buy the Community Centre. While Council staff believe it is a commodity that can be sold the community who own and use the centre are telling them otherwise. The community have already presented a 1000 signature petition, held protests and are currently mounting a campaign to tell councillors that "enough is enough" and to "get their hands off it". The big question is : Is Council now in the business of undercutting/competing with commercial businesses who are already struggling to keep afloat? Is that their end game?
With the off ramp from the new bridge on to Clyde Street to be permanently removed, what is the real bigger picture going on here? What will happen to all of the businesses along that strip that formerly enjoyed good patronage? Already we have seen a domino of closures in the main CBD area. Limiting access to the CBD via North Street and Perry Street will result in a dramatic downturn of casual visitors. The demands on the CBD will further diminish post Covid as the community transitions more and more to on-line purchases. Basically the only thing keeping the CBD afloat are the supermarkets and liquor stores. Batemans Bay has become a divided town. The CBD area and the area south of Beach Road. With a revitalisation of this precinct and an infusion of workers the southern precinct is enjoying a renaissance that will be added to shortly when the Department of Education take up their lease of the old Target building comprising a total area of 1,000sqm. Of interest is that Council has designed into the new Mackay Park Centre a 1000sqm gymnasium to be leased out. Of interest, and by way of comparison, there is a 1000sqm gym directly above the soon to be Department of Education. The time might soon arrive when loud work-out routines and the clank of weights being dropped on the floor will prove distracting to anyone leasing below. But is it Council's job to provide competitive rental space to prospective gym owners when the commercial rental market is so deflated? With Bunnings doing well and the draw of the industrial section pulling smaller shopfronts to more attractive rents and direct parking there is a trend developing that sees the Bay CBD shifting south away from the soon to be inaccessible and expensive foreshore to the more affordable open area of Orient Street and Flora Crescent. If Harvey Norman go ahead with their long term intention of moving to the old Bunnings site and opening a mega store this will also see the face of Flora Crescent change. So it is clear that Council see $$$$$ when they look at the Community Centre and recognise that they have a building that is zoned B4 Mixed use in a commercial precinct classified as Operational. It is also clear from Council's own admissions, that other community facilities are less utilised and as such performing below sustainable expectations. The best way they figure to make these spaces pay for themselves is to redirect the community to use those facilities, thereby allowing them to either lease or sell the Batemans Bay Community Centre. The Council has also revealed that they have provided community meeting rooms in the new Mackay Park facility and if the community don't hire them that will impact on the centre's income stream and its financial viability. Council have already committed to $19 million of ratepayers money to make up the shortfall to the $70 million project. Added to this burden is the expected $2m per year required to operate the facility. Council still refuses to make available the current business case that shows projected turnstyle visitation to the pools or projected income from the 350 seat theatre. The original business case showed an estimated loss of $2m per year including depreciation based on exaggerated visitation numbers. So what business is Council in? The real estate business or the community business? At the moment it appears that council staff are in the MONEY business and the community is none the wiser being told that everything is "commercial in confidence" and an "operational matter". And as for the overall design and vision for Batemans Bay? Council admitted during the planning meetings around Mackay Park that they don't have an over-arching plan. But then if they did have one they wouldn't tell ..... would they.... because that would be "commercial in confidence".