If there were Friday night drinks at the Warrnambool City Council this week, they may have been a sombre affair.
Looking back on the week that was, perhaps the question being asked either publicly or privately was: “How did we get here?”.
If it was vocalised, hopefully it was seen to be rhetoric and not needing a detailed, painful answer. But if an answer was given it could only include the strange timing of quietly announcing a $3 million overspend on the City Centre Renewal project the day before long-serving CEO Bruce Anson announced his decision to retire at the end of the year. Mr Anson deserved clear air for his announcement, but it was not to be.
The answer would also include some observations on councillor Peter Hulin’s failed attempt to introduce general business and if it could have been better handled, a question on what happened to the idea of moving a motion to hand management of the harbour to the state government and, most damningly of all, some conversation on proactive measures needed to fill the gap in earnings by local businesses in the wake of the decision to axe Fun4Kids.
Again, it seems strange that council is perceived as not foreseeing the pain accommodation providers in particular say they are feeling with no Fun4Kids to help weather the slower winter months. It is beyond dispute that Fun4Kids had run its race: ticket sales had plummeted, local patronage had fallen off a cliff and the event was not fulfilling its reason for being: visitor bed nights were falling and had reached a point to make Fun4Kids a poor return on investment.
It was at this point council had a shining opportunity. It could have moved to lead the development of a region-wide events calendar that identified all events, how they could benefit one another and eliminate clashes and instances of them cannabilising each other’s crowds. The council said it would consult the public on a new events strategy. The end result looks much like a plan for a plan. And worse, a plan for a plan that did not seem to acknowledge that for this year at least, a major event vacuum in the city would occur and this would be a crucible for criticism and further loss of confidence.
If Friday night’s sombre drinks event did indeed happen, we can only hope that it ended in a determination to re-convene come Monday and work on a plan to make the most of the city – and the region’s – abundant gifts.