Cafe ‘above board’

By Chris Thomson | posted on January 11, 2019

A SENIOR official has refuted conjecture that a barista was handed the keys to Albany’s airport cafe as compensation for being denied a coffee kiosk in York Street’s new visitor centre.

Last Thursday, The Weekender revealed barista Chris Saurin had secured 264 signatures supporting a coffee shop that on November 27 was rejected by a slim majority of Albany city councillors (‘Coffee double shot’, 3 January).

Not long after, two Albany residents, who cannot be named, accused the City of handing the airport cafe to Mr Saurin by way of recompense.

However, the City’s Executive Director Corporate Services Michael Cole said Mr Saurin’s recent take-up of the airport cafe lease was a short-term interim arrangement only.

“This interim arrangement was agreed well before the Council decision of 27th November 2018,” Mr Cole said.

On November 27, an officer’s recommendation that Mr Saurin be granted the right to operate a small cafe at the visitor centre was refused six City councillors to five.

After being the only respondent to the City’s request for proposals, Mr Saurin had been named preferred operator at York Street subject to public consultation.

During public consultation, Albany’s chamber of commerce objected.

And on November 27, acting Chamber CEO Michael Clark and representatives of two nearby cafes opposed the kiosk.

This week, Mr Cole said the City had no alternative plans for the 14.25sqm space at the visitor centre, but options would soon be reviewed.

He said Mr Saurin was now running the airport cafe on a short-term contract basis to continue the service after the previous lessee in October asked the City to terminate her lease early for personal reasons.

“The City valued the service she had provided airport users over a number of years and was agreeable to her request,” Mr Cole said.

“With Christmas approaching there was insufficient time to open expressions of interest for a new Airport Café operator.

“To ensure ongoing cafe services, the City approached Mr Saurin seeking a proposal to operate the Airport Café on a short-term interim basis as he has the required experience and relevant insurances in place following the library coffee kiosk process.”

Mr Cole said the short-term arrangement did not require Council approval.

“The successful application of the yet-to-be-advertised expression of interest process to operate the Airport Café will be presented to Council in due course,” he added.

He said that under a lease approved by the Council in August 2017, the previous cafe operator had not been paid.

“The cafe was being leased at below market value rental that did not cover the utilities expenses being incurred by the City,” he explained.

Asked whether Mr Saurin was being paid to operate the cafe or for providing any service at the airport, Mr Cole was tight-lipped.

“This is a commercial arrangement and the terms are confidential,” he said.

“It ensures the cafe at the airport is operational for all outgoing flights seven days a week until an expression of interest process to operate the cafe on a lease arrangement is complete.”

Mr Cole said the $3012 + GST annual lease agreement with the previous operator had ended.

“The Airport Café provides a valuable and welcoming service for air travellers and the general aviation community,” he said.

“The City looks forward to considering expressions of interest from any person interested in providing the valuable service when we go to the open market over coming weeks.”