Wollongong Council has launched a review into the tender process which saw the Coledale-based founders lose the contract to run Wollongong Mall’s Friday markets.
A petition of more than 2000 signatures has been tabled by Councillor Michelle Blicavs, who says the investigation is underway into the quotation process.
Wollongong Council has previously defended the move to take the operation away from the Coledale team which started the business 14 years ago.
“Unfortunately this is one of the challenges of doing business on public land,” says Michelle. “I moved a motion that Council undertake a full review of the process,” she says.
“There are no suggestions Council has done anything wrong throughout this process, but I want an assurance everything has been above board.
“I don’t know how long this review will take but the results will be made public and I will make comments once it is complete.
The markets are now an integral part of the CBD, attracting around 4000 people every week.
In July, Council put the markets out to tender, with locals Jenny Briscoe-Hough and Lara Seresin recently losing out to the operator of Bulli Forager’s Market, Kirrily Sinclair.
Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbury denies the markets have been sold to the highest bidder.
“This process has demonstrated to Council how important the markets are to our community,” he says. “People feel very passionately about them and we think that’s a wonderful thing.
“The quotation process is common in local government and a requirement when we’re entering into commercial arrangements for the use of community or Council-managed land.
“As part of this process. we took the opportunity to build in criteria to ensure the composition of stallholders delivers a mix that supports local and start-up businesses, provides diverse and new offerings for visitors and crucially, does not take away from the offering provided by our existing retailers.
“We encourage people to give the new operator a chance to demonstrate what they have to offer, especially during the three month transition period we’ve implemented to support stallholders.
“The operator has indicated it welcomes local not for profit organisations to join in the markets free of charge.”
Council says when the markets began, the city centre was managed by a separate entity to council. Several years ago, Council took back the management of the city centre and say they began a conversation about the future of the markets. Then in 2015, Council commissioned an independent review of markets in the city centre which involved consultation with stallholders, operators, patrons and retailers. The findings of this review informed the criteria established for the quotation process that commenced in 2016.
“Crown Street Mall is community land,” says a Council spokesman. “Under the Local Government Act, Council is required to go out to a public EOI, quotation or tender process for the use of community land.”