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Call for State Govt intervention on old Le Cornu site

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The State Government should purchase the Adelaide City Council-owned Le Cornu site to speed up what is becoming a lengthy development process, says SA Best MLC Frank Pangallo.

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Pangallo told InDaily he intends to write to Planning Minister Stephan Knoll to seek assurance from the Government that it will buy the North Adelaide property from the city council if development plans are not finalised by the end of next year.

The SA Best MLC said he would also raise the matter in Parliament, saying the site’s lengthy vacancy required “urgent” attention and a State Government intervention could speed up the development process.

While some nearby traders are supporting Pangallo, Planning Minister Stephan Knoll has rejected the call, telling InDaily in a statement the Government had no intention of buying the site from the council.

Adelaide City Council agreed to purchase the vacant 88 O’Connell Street property for $34 million in 2017 following 20 years of developer inactivity at the site.

The sale, which was up to $14 million above the site’s professionally assessed value, was assisted by a $10 million State Government grant.

The council launched a worldwide expression of interest process in September last year to secure a mixed-use development proposal for the site. That process closed in November, with the council’s director of services Steve Mathewson telling last night’s council meeting that a reference group tasked with overseeing the process had met this week to assess the applications.

Mathewson told InDaily this morning that the council had made “significant progress” with identifying a potential developer for 88 O’Connell Street.

He said a number of submissions were lodged, “reflecting strong interest from a range of potential local, national and international developers”.

According to a development timeline, the council anticipates it will sign a contract with its preferred developer by the end of this year.

But Pangallo said despite that, he feared no development would begin on the site for at least five years.

He said the sustained inactivity on the site could impact the vibrancy on O’Connell Street, which he said has already wavered following the recent closures of mainstays the Archer Hotel and Paesano Cucina.

“Council has called for expressions of interest to be finalised and cut to a shortlist by the end of the year – then what? Development plans get submitted and then the usual consultation and community debate about the merits begin,” he said.

“That is too long. The public are fed up.”

Pangallo said the council needed to “grasp the seriousness and urgency of the situation”, saying he had met with several tenants who had told him that they were planning to vacate the street once their leases expire.

“This block has been a running joke for decades,” he said.

“The vibrancy that was there years ago has all but disappeared and the café culture that it was renown for is flatter than a flat white.”

Scuzzi Café owner Robert Barbaro, who has operated on O’Connell Street for 29 years, described the council’s handling of the old Le Cornu site as a “bit of a joke”.

He said he “absolutely” supported an intervention from the State Government to speed up development on the site.

“It’s not just me, it’s the whole street who has been waiting for something to happen here,” he said.

“Council spends so much money and does so many surveys and it seems like it’s all for nothing because we’re still sitting here and nothing has been done.”

Barbaro said traders were concerned that they had been kept in the dark about the council’s expression of interest process.

“Nobody knows anything about the expression of interest,” he said.

“They say they’re doing this process but they are pretty hush hush about it and haven’t kept us informed about where they are at with the process.”

Fellow O’Connell Street trader Sam Portaro, of Sam’s Shoe Repairs, said the expression of interest process resembled “secret squirrel business”.

“They could be a bit more transparent, especially with people operating in the street because that’s their livelihood,” he said.

Mathewson said the council had engaged an independent probity advisor to reassure the community that the council was conducting a “fair and impartial process”.

“Clearly, elements of this process need to remain confidential to protect intellectual property and some financial information that may be commercially sensitive,” he said.

Portaro, who has traded on O’Connell Street for the past eight years, said he was considering leaving when his lease expires in about 12 months.

“We should be thriving here, but it’s just getting tougher to do business when everyone around you is talking about shutting up shop,” he said.

“Maybe if the State Government did come on board with the Le Cornu site they would be a bit more progressive and be able to get a development underway quicker to get more action happening on O’Connell Street.”

But Bakery on O’Connell owner Tony Greven said while he was concerned that the vacant Le Cornu site remained an “eyesore”, he said there still remained unanswered questions about whether a State Government intervention could speed up the development process.

“I don’t know how the State Government would go about actually doing the development, what its interests are and how much say the community would actually have,” he said.

‘With the council we as ratepayers have a say about what is developed there and I’m not sure the same would happen with the State Government.”

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