BY KRISTEN TSIAMIS
John Stamolis, ex-councillor on Leichhardt Council and member of the Leichhardt Local Representation Advisory Committee (LRAC) is furious that the Inner West Council have approved plans to make changes to heritage building Fenwick’s Store.
Mr Stamolis says that it’s not the proposal of the café that is the problem, but rather its scale, something he said is unnecessary and over the top.
“Everyone wants a café on the foreshore of Balmain, it’s the scale of the café is worrying.”
Mr Stamolis says that with the Store’s prime location, it seems a waste to put “80 seats inside a stone building…look at Gladstone Park in Balmain, there are only 12 seats inside there, and a large park patrons utilise, and that’s very successful.”
The monetary investment of $2 million to make it a 100-seat café is something that Mr Stamolis can’t understand, and he said that “a 60-seat café is more practical” and said anything larger will “undo the beautiful works we have done to restore it… when it’s just not needed.”
The building, which is right on the Balmain’s foreshore, sits right at the end of the Darling Street Wharf. Surrounding the building is a large park, which already has seating for at least 30 people.
As it stands, Fenwick’s Store is a vacant restored building, that had $2 million put into it when it was restored in 2012.
With all the renovations that have already been done to the Store, combined with the proposed changes to the store, Mr Stamolis says that the café is “…Probably going to be the most expensive coffee shop in the Inner West. Ever.”
Mr Stamolis is concerned that the proposed plans may be discriminatory for patrons with disabilities. The proposed positioning of a side door for entry and lift is not only on the “inconvenient” southern side of the building, but also bordering on discriminatory, as that the building has a double front door.
“Why would you say to persons with a disability ‘you go in the side door while I go through the front door’? It’s wrong.”
The use of public space is something Mr Stamolis says the council promised when the café was first restored. The feeling of betrayal amongst the community is rife as Mr Stamolis said that with these plans being approved, the rest of their promises now seem empty.
“The upper level was supposed to be available for public use, galleries, meetings and exhibitions…publicly available space, but council have stopped that possibility as it is designed to be part of the café” he said.
The uncertainty of the Council sticking to the proposed plans worries Mr Stamolis, and he said the option is there for council to change their plans.
“The 5pm daily restrictions means nothing, how long will this last? The very first council could change that and make it 10pm. It could be overturned when the Expression of Interest happens in a few months, there are all these uncertainties because Council want to overcommercialise a building they said they would never do.”
Mr Stamolis said the resignation of council’s third General Manager is going to make discussions with Council more difficult.