A MILLION dollars has suddenly been splashed out by Frankston Council in an attempt to break a deadlock on lease negotiations and begin the expansion of the Frankston Basketball Stadium amid fears council is trying to seize control of the stadium and its operations.
A majority of councillors voted to waive the need for the Frankston & District Basketball Association to contribute $1 million of its members’ money to the $12.7 million stage one of the project but the money came with a condition to agree to a complete review by council of the stadium’s management.
Councillors also authorised council CEO Dennis Hovenden to “take all necessary measures to expedite the commencement of construction”.
Cr Colin Hampton decided to bring the lease discussions into open council last Monday after the item had originally been listed as a confidential subject to be debated behind closed doors.
“I’ve unfortunately been forced to bring this discussion into open council because of all the exaggerations in the media — both print wise and on the air — and exaggerations unfortunately put forward by the FDBA.”
Some councillors expressed concerns that they had not been appropriately briefed before a decision for council to pitch in $1 million more to the project was publicly tabled before last Monday evening’s public council meeting.
The new lease offer by council was handed to councillors about half an hour before the 7pm meeting and was not put to the FDBA before the vote by councillors.
Mr Hovenden outlined the new lease deal at the meeting.
“I don’t think that anyone is probably happy with the current situation,” he said. “We’ve had long and protracted discussions with the basketball association.”
The lease offer discussed at last week’s council meeting would see the FBDA keep paying $28,987 annually in rent but agree to a council review of its operations to be concluded by March next year.
Council would also review the lease terms at a future date. The association has nine years to run on its existing lease.
Council had previously wanted to charge the association about $60,000 a year plus a 6 per cent take on any revenue above $1 million taking the total rent payable each year to about $130,000.
Association general manager Nathan Jolly had accused council of “a cash grab” in raising the rent after the FDBA pitched in $1 million to the project.
The mayor Cr Brian Cunial, a serving Victoria Police officer, slammed the association at the meeting.
“The way they’ve behaved is absolutely disgusting and I’m absolutely shocked. I’m 56 years old, I’ve been a copper for 33 years, I’ve met some pretty ordinary situations. This one has been very ordinary,” Cr Cunial said.
“I just hope that they’re happy, I hope that they do the right thing by the municipality and by their membership and allow access to the contractor. As soon as they do that, the building can commence.
“The ball is firmly now in their court.”
FDBA president Gary Emery said the mayor had told him before the meeting it would be “a closed meeting” so the FDBA had no representation at the meeting.
“It is bizarre to me that it was taken out of a closed commercial-in-confidence meeting out into the open and it smacks to me of them taking a cheap shot at the association in our absence.”
“I really question what their real motives are. The council appears to not want us to be the custodians of the building. They want to take it over themselves.”
Mr Emery said trust has broken down between the FBDA and council making it impossible to sign a lease without specific rent figures, not moveable percentage rates, being stipulated in the agreement.
Cr Glenn Aitken questioned council’s negotiating tactics with the FDBA at the meeting.
“Council is pitting itself, as far as I’m concerned, against a not-for-profit organisation which very well services the Frankston community and has thousands of members within our community,” he said.
“What association or organisation in its right mind would sign a contract or deed with this council when there is no real clarity in terms of how much they may pay in future if council just decides at its behest to change a percentage rate?”
Cr Aitken was unhappy at being given “inadequate” time to consider the proposed new deal before voting on it and noted the FDBA had not been told about the new offer.
“Is that negotiation and is that transparent? I don’t think so. And it’s certainly not accountability.”
He noted the association had originally built the stadium using its own money.
“I have been personally absolutely appalled with the attitude council has adopted in this process and I am very unhappy with it,” Cr Aitken said.
“I find it unprofessional. I find it unacceptable. And I find it inappropriate to deal with a community group, basically, in my view, by bullying and threat.”
Cr Colin Hampton said the basketball association would get “more money” than “any other sporting group in this city”.
“So let’s build this [stadium] and we’ll speak about leasing arrangements afterwards.”
Cr Michael O’Reilly believed “we are getting a proper return on our investment … because $5 million of ratepayers’ money and then to get $30,000 a year on our investment it seems a little out of whack.”
“It’s not as simple as the big rich council against the poor little basketball association. We’re being accountable for ratepayers’ money and if a fair amount of rent is paid … it comes out of everyone else’s pocket — even those that don’t play basketball.”
Crs Cunial, Hampton, O’Reilly, Quinn McCormack, Sandra Mayer and Steve Toms voted to back the new lease offer. Cr Aitken voted against the move. Crs Bolam and Lillian O’Connor abstained from voting.
Basketball association members are marching on Frankston Council offices on Monday (9 April) in a ‘Save Our Stadium’ protest against council’s stance on lease negotiations.
Council initially committed $4 million of ratepayers’ money to the expansion — before the addition of a further $1 million — to include four new basketball courts alongside $2.5 million of state government money and $5.2 million of federal government money from taxpayers.