August 19, 2019
A takeaway food outlet, a community information centre and a good quality secondhand store are three of the most popular choices for new shops in Proston’s CBD.
This was the outcome of a public meeting held at Proston’s Community Hall on Saturday, which was attended by about 40 people.
The meeting was called by Proston Queensland Ltd (PQL), the not-for-profit community group that recently bought a block of seven shops in Blake Street.
It was compered by PQL director Carmel Parnell, who explained the history of the company and introduced herself and the five other directors: Peter Simpson, Nick and Anita Blanch, Helen Charity and Lyn Manthey.
Carmel said the idea of buying the 1930s building had originally come up at a Proston Round Table meeting.
The Round Table is an informal discussion night that lets the district’s community groups exchange ideas and keep one another updated about their activities.
This had led to the formation of a new community group to investigate the project’s feasibility, and the creation of a not-for-profit company to lead the project.
However, fundraising efforts by PQL to buy the building failed to raise the necessary capital locally, and the situation seemed doomed until Deputy Mayor Kathy Duff stepped forward several months ago and offered to donate the funds herself.
Cr Duff told the meeting she did not want anyone to get the impression she was related to Gina Rinehart or that her family’s farming property Di Di was generating lots of surplus cash.
Instead, the funds had come to her from an unexpected inheritance.
But when they closely matched the amount PQL needed to buy the building, she took it as a sign that was what the money should be used for.
Carmel told the meeting PQL wanted to emphasise the building was now owned by the Proston community, not by any individual member of PQL.
She said PQL’s Constitution required all directors to step down after two years at the helm, which meant six new directors would likely be running the project in a year’s time.
Carmel said PQL had conducted a detailed analysis of the building prior to purchase and found that yes, there was asbestos in it, but this wouldn’t pose a problem if it wasn’t disturbed.
They also found that only one of the seven shops would meet current health regulations for the establishment of a commercial kitchen.
However, this could be done either by a business taking over a lease of the shop and installing a commercial kitchen themselves, or by PQL obtaining a grant to install one and then seeking a food-based tenant for it.
Carmel told the meeting that apart from renovation, refurbishment and maintenance costs, the main outgoings the project faced was $5470 a year for building and public liability insurance.
There was also $2800 a year rates bill, but they hoped the South Burnett Regional Council might waive this now the building was in public ownership.
However, until the necessary funds to cover the insurance could be found the building cannot accept any new tenants.
To do this, PQL are now inviting the general public to become members at a cost of $50 for the first year, and $10 per year thereafter.
The $50 initial membership fee was set to raise the funds needed to cover the first year’s insurance.
After this, it was hoped the project would become fully self-funding.
The meeting also called for ideas about the types of businesses locals would like to see in Proston’s main street, and Carmel stressed that if PQL sought those types of businesses it was essential the community support them.
A takeaway shop that sold food on weekends and in the evenings was a popular choice.
So was a good quality secondhand store and a community information centre that would provide tourist information for the area and act as a retail outlet for local arts and crafts.
Several speakers at the meeting stressed it was essential any new tenants in the building opened on weekends because that was when most visitors came to Proston but when there was very little open in the town.
Carmel said while PQL was raising the necessary funds to begin calling for tenants, it would concentrate on “cosmetic upgrades” to improve the street appeal of the building.
“Many of the shops are very rundown and tired, but they can be improved fairly easily,” Carmel said.
People who’d like to join PQL should phone secretary Peter Simpson on 0419-391-989 or send him an email to receive a membership form.
Footnote: At its September 2019 meeting, the South Burnett Regional Council agreed to a request by Proston Queensland Ltd to be given a rate remission on the shops. The motion was carried unanimously. Cr Duff absented herself from the Council Chambers during the vote to avoid any perceived conflict of interest in accordance with the Local Government Act.