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Boulevard of broken dreams

Lino lifts the lid at Southgate

03 Mar 2020

Lino lifts the lid at Southgate Image

By Sean Car

La Camera Southgate restaurant owner Lino Scidone says his business’s fate has already been determined by Southgate’s owner ARA Australia, which he alleges is hiding major plans to redevelop the precinct from its tenants.

Mr Scidone has operated his Italian restaurant in Southgate for 21 years and said recent uncertainty surrounding the precinct’s future was making it difficult for he and other tenants at Southgate to run their businesses.

With “nothing left to lose”, Mr Scidone told Southbank News that he had decided to speak out against his landlord after claiming to have been told “categorically” in a meeting with ARA representatives that his business was not part of its future plans.

Since purchasing Southgate from Dexus in 2016 and assuming management in 2018, the Singaporean-listed ARA Australia has yet to publicly reveal any plans to redevelop its asset, which includes the two Herald Weekly Times (HWT) and IBM office towers, a three-level retail and hospitality plaza and a basement carpark.

However, Mr Scidone said that it was only as a result of “pure luck” that he claimed to have recently overheard details of a “future demolition” of the precinct at a real estate function. He also claims to have seen architectural plans, which he said included a new high-rise tower, footbridge and hospitality plaza.

He said that after “contacting every single tenant by walking into every shop,” to inform them about what he knew, he was called into a meeting with an ARA representative and a representative of a property developer associated with the alleged redevelopment.

“I sat and asked questions about whether what I had found out was true and they were annoyed that someone had told me,” Mr Scidone said.

“Yes, it was true that 2020 was to get planning through and 2021 would be to organise leases and move to have everyone out by the end of 2021. I also asked if they had any plans in keeping us as tenants. I was categorically told ‘no’. This has been on the cards for years.”

“These are tenants that have been here for decades building businesses, employing people, having a go seven days a week, 16-hour days for some of us paying close to $700k in rent for 20 years and to be treated like this as one of its major tenants is disgusting.”

“Why after paying these huge rents on time every month, never late and being here for over 20 years would a landlord say that they have not thought or would look at giving me a spot in their future development?”

“Someone is not up to speed with what’s happening in this industry, restaurants like ours with this longevity are rare and there are over a dozen that are here in Southbank they will all be gone if they have their way.”

While it wouldn’t respond to questions relating to the claims made by Mr Scidone, head of asset management at ARA Australia Rohan Neville told Southbank News that it was looking at various ways to improve the precinct.

“Since taking ownership of Southgate, ARA Australia has explored a range of opportunities to improve the precinct for our tenants, customers and visitors,” he said.

“Southgate occupies an important site within the context of Southbank and Melbourne more broadly – we have a responsibility to better connect our precinct to our neighbours and to enhance the overall experience for all users.”

“As our investigations continue, we look forward to engaging with our existing tenants, neighbours and the wider community.”

While he has seven years remaining on his lease, Mr Scidone said a demolition clause in his lease agreement wasn’t able to be activated by ARA for a further two years. He told Southbank News that it was his understanding that no other tenants in Southgate had been issued with leases beyond 2021.

Mr Scidone said the growing uncertainty was proving stressful for other tenants that he had spoken with, as well as his team of more than 70 staff.

“The precinct [Southgate] has become my whole life since I have been living in Southbank for the whole life of La Camera and living at Eureka for the past 15 years,” he said. “I hope I have been part of what Southbank has become considering we have been serving over 3000 people a week.”

“We have had economic stress, bushfires, coronavirus and the hospitality sector is in a mess and these guys behind the scenes are trying to screw us. It hasn’t been fun in the past five months but we are all working hard to employ the thousands of staff that it takes to keep Southgate what it is.”

Paul O’Brien, who operates venues PJ O’Brien’s Irish Pub, Hophaus Euro Bar Bistro and BearBrass in Southgate, said that while he wasn’t privy to any redevelopment plans, it was important that all tenants were kept in the loop by ARA Australia.

“It’s important that if there are plans, tenants need to be made aware. It’s important that we’re told as soon as possible,” he said.

Opened in 1992, Southgate occupies an important place in Southbank’s history. As the first retail and dining complex to kick off development along the Yarra River, it has played an important role in Southbank’s evolution as a hub linking the Arts Precinct, St John’s Southgate, as well as major hotels The Langham and Quay West.

Southbank Residents’ Association (SRA) president Tony Penna said that while the complex was due for a makeover, he hoped the community would be engaged as part of any future redevelopment process.

“Southgate has played an important part of the Southbank retail precinct and while we acknowledge it is in need of a little love, we would hope that any future works would be transparent and all stakeholders consulted,” he said.

“There are many businesses which have been part of the Southbank fabric for a very long time. La Camera would be one such business which has always taken an active interest in the local community. It would be sad to see Southgate, as we know it now, disappear without any warning or consultation.” •

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