31st January 2020.
The City of Fremantle has inked a controversial Kings Square deal granting a 10-year lease to the Fremantle Doctor Restaurant and Bar, while providing $500,000 towards fitting out the new establishment and free rent for two years.
Fremantle Doctor's free rent deal is one year less than what was recommended by City of Fremantle officers but has attracted criticism from residents and local groups, who have accused the council of "gambling with ratepayers' funds".
The deal comes after the City struggled to attract tenants for their share of the $220 million revamp, which is a 828sqm space in its civic building, due to "unfavourable economic conditions".
The Kings Square upgrade, centred around the new council chambers and civic building, is the biggest reshape of the city centre for years and promises "a retail and dining experience designed with Freo people in mind, unlike anything seen before in Australia".
The major infrastructure upgrade is a partnership between the City of Fremantle and developer Sirona Capital, the powerhouse behind a 38-storey, $65 million apartment tower in South Perth.
On Wednesday night, City of Fremantle councillors granted the lease to Fremantle Doctor to operate out of the two first floors of the triangle portion of Kings Square, with a third floor reserved for events.
The restaurant and bar is the latest venture of Orient Bar owner Tony Taylor and will feature an "integrative fit-out", with a wall of bi-folding doors to create a seamless transition between inside and outside.
Patrons will also have access to a big alfresco area with a playground space and a coffee window for casual trade.
The eatery will operate under a restricted tavern licence, with no takeaway alcohol sales, and will offer breakfast, lunch and dinners seven days a week.
Mr Taylor said Fremantle Doctor would bring something unprecedented to the Port City: a venue with extensive alfresco space overlooking an entertainment square, where punters could enjoy busker performances and city-run events similar to Yagan Square and Elizabeth Quay.
The English-Italian publican, who has more than a decade's experience running bars in Northbridge and Fremantle, said he had drawn his inspiration from Europe's buzzing public piazzas.
"I’m very confident with the concept, I love the concept," he said.
"The fact that you’ve got approximately 300 or 400sqm of beer garden, where you can sit and you’ve got activity, the children’s play area on a Saturday and Sunday morning, buskers and other things to see and do in the square."
When asked about the criticism the proposal had attracted, Mr Taylor said the City's incentive was similar to those offered by developers in other entertainment districts across Perth.
"As far as the incentives go, that’s no different to any other incentive in a commercial base especially when you’re taking on a new lease in a new building," he told WAtoday.
"I’ve put in a lot of my own money to get this off the ground as well so it’s a lot of risk from my side."
Announcing the news on social media on Thursday, Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt said the decision to approve the lease was the result of "a frank and robust debate".
"Given the current flat state of the WA economy it’s a huge positive that someone is prepared to invest in a venue like this in Fremantle," he wrote.
"It’s just a fact that in order to provide the night-time activation we’re looking for in a venue like this it has to have a liquor licence, but any sensible person can see that it won’t be a three-storey beer barn."
But Marija Vujcic, a south ward councillor in the City of Fremantle, labelled the decision "bad business".
Ms Vujcic was one of five elected members to vote against the proposal, after moving a motion to defer the decision and appoint an independent auditor to oversee the decision, which she said breached the City's own purchasing policy.
She said the cost of the project was "huge for the ratepayers" and constituted trading "civic pursuits" for "another alcohol outlet".
"What a poor return," she said.
"The council’s role is not to undermine local businesses who already do it tough."
Ms Vujcic said WA's slowing economy and a growing trend among consumers to order food through food delivery apps meant a three-storey restaurant was "unlikely to bring a profit" and could create a "generational debt" instead, preventing the City from investing in services for ratepayers.
"The more I go into the cost benefit analysis of this proposal the more clarity I have that this proposal does not benefit the city," she said.
Local heritage group Fremantle Society have also openly opposed the move, saying while they would like to see Kings Square succeed, the deal was a "slow motion train wreck".
"Fremantle Society has raised significant concerns about the council's performance, lack of transparency and lack of reasonable public consultation," group secretary Chris Williams said.
However, Mr Pettitt defended the decision, saying the venture was expected to bring more than $1.4 million in net income to the City of Fremantle over the 10 years.
Mr Taylor told WAtoday he is expecting Fremantle Doctor to officially open its doors to the public in October, ahead of the Melbourne Cup.