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The former visitor information centre has been sold, subject to settlement. Image: Courtesy McKimm’s Real Estate.

Going, going, gone

Geoff Helisma |

Clarence Valley Council’s (CVC) former tourism flagship, the visitor information centre (VIC) at South Grafton has been sold, pending settlement between CVC and an unnamed buyer.

At last week’s October 16 CVC meeting, six of nine councillors supported accepting an offer for the building, which initially failed to sell at auction on April 12.

Subsequent to the auction, councillors unanimously agreed to list the property for sale at $1.2million (plus GST).

At the August CVC meeting, councillors rejected an offer “under the asking price”.

At the September CVC meeting, councillors rejected two offers to purchase the building, however, they decided unanimously in a confidential session to “advise Council’s agent that revised terms are in accordance with Option 1 of the Confidential Attachment”.

It was revealed at last week’s meeting that councillors had also “delegated the General Manager to negotiate a sale, giving consideration to specific conditions”.

Councillors were asked to make a decision as a result of the GM’s negotiations because the offer proposed “conditions that sit outside the delegation provided to the General Manager”.

Councillor Andrew Baker said that the sale of the VIC had “been a long time in development” and that “council had tested and tested again all of the options, right back to when the VIC used to be personed”.

“We moved through a series of things within council workshops on how council runs the business of visitor information,” he said.

“We now have this asset, surplus to council’s needs, [that will be] away from high traffic flow once the new motorway is opened.

“We can now convert it into cash to do something worthwhile …. I can see no reason to turn back any number of decisions that got us to here today.”

Only Cr Debrah Novak spoke against the sale.

She disagreed with Cr Baker, saying she “didn’t believe” all of the “options had been tested”.

She referred to “feedback from the general community”, but did not elaborate.

Councillor Baker had a different opinion in his right of reply (as the mover of the motion), saying that the “business or broader community” had not suggested a “worthwhile proposal”.

“Certainly, there has been a small amount of noise, as there is with all council decisions, but nothing that should turn our heads at this stage,” he said.

Some of that “noise” came from Bill Day, who was largely responsible for setting up the now defunct Clarence River Tourism Association, which CVC disbanded in 2014.

Mister Day wrote to each of the councillors prior to their decision, however, he said he did not receive any responses.

“Once this centre is sold there is no plan B,” he wrote, “no turning back to the highly successful approach to local tourism that has served this Valley so well and which other regional councils throughout Australia continue to follow so successfully.”

Coffs Harbour and Blue Mountains city councils expanded their human tourism interfaces in late 2017/early 2018, emphasising the importance of face to face interaction and the value of being greeted by “smiling faces” and receiving “personalised information”, respectively.

“I urge you to reject this offer and undertake a reassessment of the CVC approach to local tourism,” Mr Day wrote.

After the meeting, Mr Day said: “I’m gutted that this council would cash in decades of many people’s work to cover their own mismanagement of tourism in the Clarence Valley.”

Councillors Novak, Toms and Clancy voted against accepting the offer to purchase the VIC.