The south-west community has started a petition in a bid to stop the Robin Boyd visitor centre at Tower Hill from closing its doors, but long-time centre operators Worn Gundidj say the issues leading to the closure are more serious than the public may realise.
With a major redevelopment of the building scheduled for early 2023, Worn Gundidj announced it would cease public access to the centre from October 3.
Worn Gundidj told The Standard the centre had always run at a significant loss and revealed it was only a tenant of the centre, paying an annual lease fee to landlords Parks Victoria.
After the closure announcement on September 13, South West Coast MP Roma Britnell and her opponent in November's state election Carol Altmann both called for the centre to be made lease-free and on September 19 Gunditjmara man Billy McGuinness started a petition calling for the lease fee to be cancelled.
In the petition Mr McGuiness said the announcement had "caused shock, outrage and is against the wishes of the public and the local communities (both indigenous and non-indigenous)".
"This petition is for the State Government and Parks Victoria to keep the lease at $0.00 per annum which should allow Worn Gundidj to make it a more viable/profitable business option for its award winning tourism operators and award winning destination," he said.
"With no information centre and shop, there is no need for people to stop and admire Tower Hill and its beauty or learn of our local indigenous history."
Worn Gundidj business development manager Clint Miller said it was "heartening" to see the community rally around the centre, but waiving the rent wouldn't resolve the situation.
Mr Miller said there were two issues, one was that the centre ran at a significant loss, and the other was the looming forced closure when the building was redeveloped.
The rent for the centre was around $4000 annually, but staffing costs were closer to $100,000 a year, so while waiving the rent would be a nice gesture it wouldn't change the viability of the business.
"People would need to be lobbying for two staff's annual wages, because that's the kind of money we've been bleeding each year," he said.
"Then there is the redevelopment, which is a forced shutdown during our busiest time of the year. We can't just sit around and wait for that to happen."
He said the other issue was Parks Victoria couldn't guarantee whether there would actually be a retail offering when the centre reopened, nor whether Worn Gundidj would be offered a new lease.
"If the redevelopment wasn't happening then maybe we would be looking at ways to grow the retail offering down there, but at the same time everyone acknowledges Tower Hill desperately needs an upgrade," Mr Miller said.
He said Worn Gundidj's cultural tours of Tower Hill would not be affected by the centre closure.
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