A “CREATIVE town entrance” that doubles as an integrated tourism operations “hub” and historical precinct is how a proposed wine industry and tourism associations’ partnership sees its concept for developing Margaret River’s Old Settlement.
Augusta-Margaret River Tourism Association chief executive officer Simon Ambrose said the intention was to leave the town’s visitors’ centre where it is and develop “a totally different building” as a tourism operations hub.
The ambitious first major formal partnership between AMRTA and the Margaret River Wine Industry Association could see an international standard wine interpretive centre with displays on the history of the Margaret River wine region and a possible wine tasting area, adjacent office facilities for wine tour operators and other regional tour operators, and a cafe/restaurant housed in a contemporary building cut into the side of the hill at the Old Settlement.
The existing group settlement house, school hall, workshop and farm buildings, would form the basis of an historical precinct and museum set on the new building’s turf roof jutting out from the hillside above the river, Mr Ambrose said.
“We want the site to engage with the river, we are very conscious of the environment and we want that to be part of the concept. We want people to be able to see it (tourism operations hub with historical precinct and public open space on top) through the tall trees as they come into town.
“We don’t see our concept as that much different (in relation to retaining the historical nature of the site) to the historical society’s proposal, and the blacksmith proposal can certainly be incorporated,” he said of two other submissions to Augusta-Margaret River Shire Council on the future of the Old Settlement site.
“We will work with the historical society to make it a really great historical precinct – we want to create an historical settlement on top. Our concept may result in a better historical precinct than they proposed in their submission.”
Mr Ambrose said the proposed partners envisaged the tourism operations hub and wine interpretation centre would be open seven days a week and its staff could open and close the historical precinct when historical society volunteers were not available.
He confirmed the Old Settlement had been on the associations’ “radar” for some time and the council calling for expressions of interest had been a catalyst for “being able to talk more about it in public, and with the public”.
“Margaret River wine region is known internationally,” Mr Ambrose said. ‘People come here with an interest in it and to learn more about it.
“The concept we are putting forward will allow them to follow the history of the region, through the establishment of the wine industry to what they see here today.”
The associations’ submission to council describes the wine interpretation centre as a “feeder” for wine tourism for the region and the “essential start (and end) venue for visitors”.
Apart from wine tours, walking, cycling, adventure and other tour operators could operate from the site, Mr Ambrose said, with walking and cycling tours taking advantage of direct access to river trails.
An additional group settlement cottage could be sourced and relocated to the site as a cycling tour office.
The concept is expected to cost more than $5 million to implement, but Mr Ambrose said AMRTA was confident it could attract “corporate partners”, as well as State and Federal Funding, and may put in some of its own funds if needed.
The associations believe they could produce a business plan for the concept by the end of next year and have substantially started development by the end of the following year if the council agrees to lease the whole of the Old Settlement to them.
The council is due to consider the joint AMRTA and MRWIA submission and five others on the Old Settlement at its September 12 meeting in Augusta.
However, the proposed partnership’s concept may require the council to secure an initial lease of the site, which is vested to it for the purpose of a “park and historical settlement”, from the Regional Development and Lands Minister before it can sub-let the site for a commercial enterprise like that proposed.