Gold Coast lightrail. Photo: Glenn Hunt Gold Coast mayor Tom Tate. Photo: Supplied
Southport’s Chinatown Photo: Tony Moore
Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate at Marina Mirage. Photo: Glenn Hunt
The Gold Coast feels like a city in a hurry.
Its population has swollen from just 35,000 during the heady days of the 1960s when bikinis and beaches were almost the reason why the Gold Coast grabbed people’s attention.
By the middle of last year the Gold Coast’s population topped a half-million people and it was home to 537,000 people.
In 20 years the Gold Coast will have an extra 320,000 people living in 130,000 new homes and, hopefully, working in 150,000 new jobs.
Friday’s Gold Coast council budget lays out the tasks for the next 12 months.
However Gold Coast’s mayor Tom Tate has three big problems, which he and his fellow Gold Coast City councillors clearly see as challenges.
First up, his city – which stretches from Runaway Bay to Coolangatta – has a major new arts and cultural precinct at Evandale behind Surfers Paradise to build quickly.
Work on stage one begins in November and will be finished by 2018.
Secondly, the Gold Coast has a very big party to host, the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
And thirdly, he is still having problems convincing governments – state or federal – to put their hands in their pockets and fund the next stage of something that is already working.
That stage will connect Gold Coast’s light rail out to the main rail line making it easy for tens of thousands of visitors to catch the train to the coast and build critical mass on commuter usage.
There was no council contribution to the project in the Gold Coast’s $1.2 billion budget on Friday, but Tom Tate did have a blunt message to both levels of government.
But let’s set the scene.
Tom Tate froze Gold Coast’s charges and levies in Friday’s budget and pulled a small rabbit from his hat by restricting rates increases to just one per cent.
As he said on Friday, “This is the lowest rates rise since the amalgamation,” referring to 1994 when Gold Coast accepted the old Albert Shire – which had sat on its northern boundary – into the city.
Work on the arts precinct – near the council’s existing centre at Bundall – will begin before Christmas.
“We will start demolition around November or December,” he said.
The actual date is complicated by Council plans to upgrade and shift Council’s IT facilities from their Evandale centre.
“The people will be out of there, it is just our computer system upgrade before we pull the plug on that.”
Tate is a civil engineer who managed the Tate family’s Islander Resort hotel at Surfers Paradise before entering council in 2012.
The majority of the funding for the arts precinct’s $37 million stage one works – at Bundall behind Surfers Paradise – is coming from the sale of council properties.
Tom Tate said it was not too difficult to judge the timing of property sales to meet the necessary revenue for the work.
“The city is on the upswing, so there’s no hurry,” he said.
“And if it takes another 12 months before we dispose of any major assets to fund this, that’s fine.”
Cr Tate says he has impressed on his council team that it is important to add value to council properties before putting them up for sale or lease.
As one example, the council is putting together a development application over one large parcel of council-owned land at Robina that it bought for $9 million before putting it to the market.
“We should have a big development application on that – right in the heart of Robina – before we take it to the Chinese market and say there is no development risk – here is the development application – and let them bid against each other.
“The price will go up. It will go up.”
It is a tell-tale Tom Tate approach to using the real estate market to boost council’s coffers.
On Thursday Gold Coast Chamber of Commerce president Peter Yared asked for more access for local businesses to the $250 million in council contracts open each year.
“He’s right and we’ve done a lot, which he doesn’t know about yet,” he said laughing.
“If the contract is over $600,000 we’ve given them a 15-per-cent price advantage.
“So if Peter and his mob can’t win a contract with a 15 per cent price margin then they need to be going somewhere else because they just aren’t efficient,” he said.
And finally there is the future of stage two of the Gold Coast’s light rail project.
In March 2015, Tate said if a decision was not reached by the end of that month it would be too late to build the connection to the main Brisbane rail line before the Commonwealth Games.
The Federal Coalition Government did not contribute any money to stage two in its budget, although the Federal Labor Government did contribute to stage one.
Gold Coast City Council did not contribute any money in its budget.
All eyes are on the Queensland Government.
Tate remained measured in his comments.
“They have the business case,” he said.
“I would say that if I was the State Government I would have already have pushed the button.”
The answer, according to Tate, is more involvement from the private sector.
His measured tones left the room.
“If the federal government keeps saying ‘No’, alright tell them to ‘f—k off’,” he says in frank terms.
“Get the private enterprise involved and ask them ‘What do they need’?”
“I know what they want!”
Tate said the consortium that had built stage one would ask for 25 years to cover the construction costs and generate a profit instead of 15 years.
Tate said that form of public private partnership – which delivered stage one – was the direction forward.
“That is the model I would go for.
“However in qualifying that, I recognise that the state government is the lead agency and here at the City of the Gold Coast well, that is just a friendly suggestion.”
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