Mayor holds out hope on supermarket

SOUTH Gippsland Shire Council mayor Cr Don Hill said the door is still open for council to resume negotiations with Michael’s IGA to buy council land and develop an $18 million supermarket in Korumburra.
Cr Hill said, “He (Michael’s IGA owner Michael Lorenz) can come along at any time and sign a contract.”
Michael’s IGA recently revealed it had abandoned plans for now to build the new supermarket at the corner of Commercial and King streets, Korumburra, after negotiations with council to buy council-owned buildings on the site broke down.
Council’s final offer was a bank guarantee of $400,000 and a six percent deposit to ensure Michael’s IGA delivered the supermarket in a timely manner. Michael’s IGA’s offer was $300,000 to be held in trust and a 10 percent deposit.
Cr Jeremy Rich has also defended his role in bringing Michael’s IGA’s latest offer to a closed special council meeting on December 5.
That meeting followed a meeting on December 2 of Mr Lorenz, Crs Hill and Rich, and council’s development services director Bryan Sword, after discussions between Cr Rich and Mr Lorenz at the recent Christmas function of Melbourne law firm, Wisewould Mahony.
Both men were at the function as they are clients of the firm. Cr Rich’s brother Adam Rich is a partner in the firm.
As a result of his brother’s involvement with the firm, Cr Rich said he was absent from the December 5 meeting where councillors rejected the latest proposal from Mr Lorenz, which came about at the December 2 meeting.
As for the conversation between himself and Mr Lorenz at the Christmas function, Cr Rich said, “We said hello and we talked about regional produce as we always do.”
Cr Rich also said, “I have the best interests of South Gippsland in mind, as I’m sure that Michael (Lorenz) and the shire do too, and I hope everyone can find a path forward that works for all.”
Michael’s IGA general/operations manager Len Morabito said the men discussed Mr Lorenz’s frustrations with the state of negotiations. Mr Morabito did not believe the discussion between them was inappropriate because of Cr Rich’s brother being a partner in the law firm.
“You cannot ignore the guy (Cr Rich). He is a councillor in one of the places where we have our stores,” Mr Morabito said.
The Star understands Cr Rich urged Cr Hill to simply resume negotiations about the sale of the land and therefore ensure Korumburra received a new supermarket.
That resulted in the meeting of December 2 and the subsequent closed meeting on December 5.
Mr Morabito said the company still did not propose to develop a new supermarket on the corner of King and Commercial streets.
He said many Korumburra people and customers had expressed unrest on social media about the news and were “holding the shire responsible for in-action – again”.
Korumburra Business Association president Noelene Cosson said the association was disappointed the supermarket development was not proceeding.
“We appreciate this is a private investment and if now isn’t the right time then we respect that decision,” she said.
“Michael’s IGA has invested heavily into this site when no other supermarket brand was interested and we are confident the development will go forward when the time is right.”
Ms Cosson said the new supermarket would have stopped more people from leaving town to do their grocery shopping.
“Although everyone was very much looking forward to a new full line supermarket, we do still have a very reasonable supermarket that delivers great service and supports the community,” she said.
“At the end of the day this decision doesn’t affect the progress of other developments in Korumburra. The community hub is still moving forward, and there will possibly be no need to temporarily relocate the library and other facilities within that building as they may be able to move straight to the new hub.
“The community can also regain the use of the Community Meeting Room which has been felt as a loss to many groups.”
Michael’s IGA has given $1.6 million to the community via its Community Rewards program, with approximately $80,000 going back to the Korumburra community.

Short URL: http://thestar.com.au/?p=26949

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