Saturday, May 5, 2012

An open letter to the Premier of Victoria about Port Melbourne

“Port Melbourne has no soul, why would you go there?” [Overheard from a not so potential tourist]

The Premier

Dear Premier Baillieu,

Please read the following and please don’t fob it off to some paper shuffler whose only objective is to avoid communication and actually doing something. As Leader, Minister for the Arts and an architect please make this happen.

Summary The less than 1km stretch of Beach Street and Waterfront Place between Bay Street and Princes pier including Station pier is a disgrace to Melbourne. Just imagine being an international visitor arriving by ship to Port Melbourne? Not a good look to say the least. Various levels of government have created the face of Port Melbourne and it unfortunately is less than welcoming to the point of shouting, ‘go away – we don’t want you’.

Australian bureaucracy .. Melbourne is one of the great cities in the world, is kid safe, has natural good looks, is extremely liveable and is in a country which led every other country out of the GFC. Yet, there is a dark side. Maybe we need to learn from Greece, Spain and Italy when it comes to scrutinising what all levels of Government actually do. Not what they say they do or are going to do but what they actually achieve for the good of the country and the people depending on those decisions. More importantly, we need to clearly understand just what they have failed to do and the ramifications of those inactions.
At what point do we object to the way elected governments fail to translate our needs into sustainable policy or indeed, even to be able to clearly recognise dysfunction? How bad does it need to be before we realise that our elected officials do not necessarily have the appropriate drive to deliver on the cognisant, positive and essential policies designed to enhance our country?
Unfortunately, it is a fact that there are many of our elected officials who crave public recognition at any cost but not by achieving recognition through positive deeds and actions but by seeking ‘instant recognition’ - more important than the outcome. The obvious example being, politicians wanting to be seen to be doing something by instigating punitive action rather than spending a bit more thought and creating a positive outcome. Punitive is easy.

Port Melbourne .. Our international seaway disembarkation at Port Melbourne is a disgrace to Melbourne, Victoria and Australia. This is the fault and responsibility of several areas of Government - The State Government, The City of Port Phillip, Melbourne Ports and possibly the Federal Government. Given the tourist and international importance of less than a kilometre of coastline encompassing the stretch from Bay Street through to Princes pier and including Station Pier, one would think there would be sustained effort to create something special. Not so. In the last 13 years to our knowledge nothing positive has been achieved. Indeed, the whole area has regressed to a point of dysfunction. As I said above, we need to see what has been achieved and what has gone backwards – not what has been promised or planned or ‘is in next year’s budget’ or ‘we will take it under advisement’ or ‘we are working hard’ or ‘it’s in train’ or ‘leave it to us’. May I say, nothing has been achieved and indeed the area has regressed to a point where insolvencies, bankruptcies and business closures are endemic.
This is a legacy of many current bureaucracies and past governments.
What a shame for Melbourne!

Solution .. The problems are obvious and the inability of multiple levels of Government to deal with these problems is also obvious. Therefore, to save our heritage and reputation, we need to immediately establish a body / consultancy / group without politicians albeit representing the 3 areas of government with enough legal drive to turn this situation around within weeks. That body could be as small as 3-5 people but with enough clout to demand from various government departments immediate action and address known systemic and endemic dysfunctions.

First fix – the obvious .. Immediate action is needed to support tourism and local businesses that depend on destination visitors. This is an easy first fix as all it takes is to reprogram parking meters to reflect reality.
Independent reports on parking commissioned by another council stated that parking fees are only applicable when demand exceeds supply and if that occurs, fees should be set at a figure promoting an 85% fill rate. In this way revenue is maximised, parking availability is maintained and parking supports local business. In the tourist precinct of Beach Street and Waterfront Place, it is mostly empty [less than 23%] being only busy when there are functions in the local restaurants and people have no choice but to park or when something like QE2 or Queen Mary steams into port. There is little demand and as parking is free everywhere else it discriminates against traders on this strip. Big words? No, not when you consider the ramifications i.e. up to 5 insolvencies in the area. The primary reason for the empty spaces is the cost of ticketed parking. We get many many complaints a week from our customers vowing to go somewhere else next time. This is a serious issue for our tourist precinct, the businesses and indeed a serious issue for Melbourne. This is because our sea gateway is seen as empty, dead, unapproachable and undesirable. No critical mass, no people and as people are gregarious by nature it remains empty. There are other reasons for this but parking costs are the first and most easily fixed. Simple, first hour free then $2 per hour from 2am to 7pm with no cap. The message this sends is simple and effective. ‘Port wants you to visit and enjoy what we have to offer and to show that, we have dropped our parking fees. ‘You should see us now’. There is no demand after 7pm as the ferry has gone; therefore there is no justification for fees at all but as the Mayor of Port Phillip believes parking fees dissuade Tasmanian ‘abusers’ and residents park their second and third cars on the streets, then make fees applicable from 2am. Everyone needs 85% occupancy from car parking for tourism, business and indeed promoting our gateway to Melbourne. Fee structure is one easily implementable action to help create a solution. Port Phillip council need to recognise a dysfunctional tourist area and make immediate and definitive change in terms of parking fees.

Second fix – anti-dead .. The second immediate fix is to force the Port Melbourne Business Association, into which all traders are required to donate, to action visual strategic promotion of the area. The ‘PMBA’ need to be forced to develop a professional business plan defining responsibilities reflecting our collective levies with immediate action [as distinct from its present documents and indeed, actions]. For example, why haven’t we got defined entrances with street banners and flags to Beach Street past Bay Street so that tourists feel special about entering the tourist area? Why are the banner points derelict and why are the flagpoles empty – for literally years? Port Melbourne is being whipped by Docklands and it shouldn’t happen. If you are in any doubt, PMBA recently advertised Docklands in a glossy magazine delivered to all of Port Melbourne within which we have a lift out. In effect we are advertising ourselves to ourselves whilst promoting the opposition. Fantastic! The above is the easiest part and can happen within two weeks. These actions will in themselves create an impetus for change and show to the Melbourne population that Port Melbourne wants visitors. Then, we get down to short term remedial actions. Port Melbourne cannot be seen as dying or dead. The closure of the former gym ‘block’ means that the area is empty, hostile and ghostlike. Dead or dying businesses also mean people avoid the area. An empty property has a certain spooky feel and is lifeless and foreboding. Up-lights under the palm trees on Beach Street outside the dead gym are indicative and are also dead and do nothing to alleviate the spooky feel. Not good for Melbourne.

Third fix – the ugly. The truck parking area remains a third world transition border crossing sans the barb wire. This is appalling unless you are a trucker with an avid love of truck spotting. Beach Street and Waterfront Place are turning into truck parking yards at peak tourist times with a marshalling yard designed to expedite truck movements rather than support a tourist precinct. We are aware that truck movements keep the ferry going and are critical to its survival and therefore are critical to maintain. However this does not mean that that goal is mutually exclusive to creating a tourist precinct. For example, the fence surrounding the area is dreadful. A dodgy wire fence with a misspelt sign is not the best look. Trucks do what trucks do within their marshalling area but it doesn’t have to be visible and destructive. There are many fixes for this but the easiest and quickest [think 2 weeks] is a proper fence and gates. The ideal would be a fence where pedestrian tourists say 200m away cannot see the tops of trucks within the yard. A fence designed to hide. [See heritage guidelines for second story additions to homes with an overlay] This not just a chunk of black hessian / plastic wrapped onto the existing fence, but a proper fence of some architectural merit with plantings around the top and base designed to hide everything. Maybe charcoal or dark green would be appropriate. For the entrance gates think wrought iron and Art Deco or go and see the fantastic new-ish gates on the St Kilda Botanical Gardens.

Fourth fix – Our future The area needs up-market retail to survive. The western side of the truck marshalling area needs to be developed for 8 or so small retail shops above truck height over the yard itself with a boardwalk and utilising existing grassed area. Any up market shop seen as leisure related would be great such as, souvenirs, designer garments, etc. Other fixes include - the wide footpath on the waterfront opposite Nott Street could become a market like St Kilda upper esplanade. Easy to implement through third parties. There are many water related sports which could be promoted for the beaches including kayaking, canoeing, diving, etc. Easily implemented through third parties. Why haven’t we got bollards [Geelong] and/or sculptures all along the area [Bondi] where artists can erect their masterpieces for sale and if not sold within say 6 months remove them and let someone else have a turn? Docklands are killing us in terms of street art yet we have the beaches and should lead the pack! Go figure!. Lastly, our international seaway. This is our huge opportunity to scream ‘Melbourne’. Station Pier is a disgrace to Melbourne and remains as a Gestapo style lock down. It has turned into a barricaded industrial homage for ferry access instead of promoting Melbourne as a city of life with ease of living and a welcoming persona. Imagine our trams going all the way to the end of the pier – imagine an arthouse theatre – imagine the MSO plugged. There are so many opportunities. Once again, for a ‘talented’ architect, the brief to create a world recognised landmark for Melbourne incorporating heritage features, the ferry and all the ancillary things would be sought after with some vigour and it doesn’t have to be the Taj Mahal. Princes Pier has not worked and is currently a homage to design by committee. Yet, it can be fixed. Changing our international arrival point and heritage piers is harder because it depends on several areas of Government working together. But it can happen and can happen quickly. All it needs is some forethought and a desire to actually make something happen along with power to make the changes. I can only imagine these changes happening through multi-level Government interventions because idiot power mongers will want to protect their area of so called responsibility and will not submit to mere co-operation preferring to hold onto power but in effect, do nothing. Therefore we need an independent body to take control of this tourist specific area and turn it around. Notionally, the less than 1km stretch between Bay Street and Princes Pier. May I stress an ‘independent’ body. Why, because multiple Governments have proven their incompetence on an ongoing basis. Especially the local council.

Mr Premier, this letter has been copied to the undermentioned, is published on my blog [] and is with all the daily and local papers. It is up to them whether or not they consider Port Melbourne worth saving.
Yes, we do have a vested interest because we own Deco Bistro and Gallery at 49 Beach Street Port Melbourne and see the dysfunctions on a daily basis.
We want this tourist area to thrive and be a model for the rest of the world and it can happen quickly given commitment by all vested interests and an agreement to remove politicking.

Jon Langevad MBA

CC. Mr Mark Birrell Chairman
Fx: 9683 1570
Included in this request because of his present role as Chair of PoMC and past experience as and especially Minister for Major Projects (responsible for Agenda 21 infrastructure projects like the Exhibition Centre, Museum, City Circle tram, the Regent Theatre, Docklands, Beacon Cove and the Sports and Aquatic Centre) as well as his interest in photography / visual arts. A man who should understand visual amenity and the failings of Port Melbourne.

Ms Rachel Powning Mayor City of Port Phillip
Included in this request as Mayor of Port Phillip albeit because of elections this year, of limited tenure.