Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Evaluating Notre Dame's place in Freo (Part II)

My last post looked at the great Freo town-gown trade-off. In today's concluding post, I''ll shoot the breeze about what we can expect from Notre Dame and how the recently adopted MOU stacks up.


What can we expect from Notre Dame?

I'll come clean. I feel there's a tad too much emphasis on the City attempting to elicit a financial commitment from Notre Dame in the Memorandum of Understanding.

Yep, I've flipped my thinking on this one. I just don't think that it is the City's place to attempt to force Notre Dame into this kind of financial arrangement. Firstly, the City does not have the power to compel Notre Dame to do so. Secondly, I can imagine that it would be difficult for the City to have any credibility with Notre Dame if it isn't doing the same thing with other large not-for-profit organisations in Fremantle.

Rather than focusing on a dollars and cents contribution, I now believe that the opportunity presented by the Memorandum of Understanding is to focus on:

- mitigating what we're trading;

- maximising what we're gaining; and

- identifying what we should be gaining but not currently receiving.

Setting aside the diminished rates base for reasons I've already mentioned, it seems logical that the Memorandum of Understanding focuses on activating the West End, and how Notre Dame can help with managing the demand for parking. It also feels reasonable that the City and Notre Dame agree on maximising the benefits of economic development and heritage restoration.

Finally, something that I feel Freo should be gaining, but that Notre Dame isn't providing as well as it could be, is community development.

How does the MOU stack up?

Armed with a tasty mug of freshly brewed Yorkshire Gold tea, I decided to tackle the City's website in an attempt to download the MOU. After my fifteenth mug, I eventually discovered that only the old MOU could be downloaded. Not to be outdone and because I was over-stimulated, I made like the spy in Len Deighton's 'The Ipcress File' and deduced that, as Council had made the decision to adopt the new MOU, the document would have been included as an attachment as part of a Council Agenda. So after another series of clicks, I excitedly found the new MOU document.

(Maybe somebody at the City could update the website so that finding and downloading the new MOU doesn't require experience working for MI6? In the meantime, I won't link to the City's website.)

Now back to the MOU.

I finished reading the document and immediately concluded that 'encourage' must have been trendy at the time of its drafting.

My second reading left me thinking that this MOU is all about getting Notre Dame to figure out that street activation is a good thing. Great in theory... but I will be awarding a big cup of hot fat to both parties for agreeing to the two year timeframe for starting a street activation strategy.

A positive aspect of the document is that Notre Dame will look at expanding its academic activities to locations throughout the city centre. This'll free up space in the West End, which will allow for its activation, and reinforces the importance of the Stan Reilly site.

If you're looking for money don't expect too much. Notre Dame has agreed that it will contribute up to $75,000 per calendar year. Remembering that they don't have to pay anything, and that they will be expected to continue their heritage restoration and building upgrade programmes, I'm cool with this aspect of the MOU.

Economic development gets a guernsey. Freo businesses are expected to be Notre Dame's first port of call. It'll be interesting to see if this does in fact happen.

Two aspects that could have been given more attention are Notre Dame's community development, and its role in providing movement options for its students and employees. This neglect probably also deserves a cup of hot fat as well.

Another detail that is missing is any word on how the MOU will be implemented. Who will be responsible on the City's end, and who will be the point of contact at Notre Dame? How will groups like FICRA, the West End Traders Association and the Fremantle BID be involved?

Not withstanding the questionable implementation plan, I'm surprised to report that all in all the MOU gets a pass mark from me. ("I'm sure they'll be breathing huge sighs of relief in the Chancellor's office." - my wife.) Now it is down to implementation.

Now for some ideas

1. State Government subsidy to City of Freo for being so awesome?

Notre Dame, Fremantle Port, Fremantle Hospital are all subsidised by us taxpayers. They also all provide benefits to the wider Perth metropolitan region, let alone Freo. So why is it left to Fremantle ratepayers to bare a cost through losses in rates revenue?

I'd like to see the City of Fremantle, along with all of Fremantle's representatives in state parliament, advocating for the State Government to award the City a one off yearly subsidy. It happened in Connecticut - why can't it happen here?

2. Get cracking on the street activation strategy

This is a no brainer. There is no reason why the community must wait two years for work on preparing this document to begin.

3. Community development

I really like how the University of Western Australia provides its Extension Courses to the public. I'd like to see Notre Dame do something similar with a distinct Freo focus.

4. Heritage interpretation

Notre Dame does heritage restoration really well, but does it interpret the buildings well enough? I feel that there is room for improvement.

5. Courtyards open on weekends?

Notre Dame's courtyards are kick ass. Why can't they be open on weekends for the public to enjoy?

6. Reduce parking demand

What is Notre Dame doing to reduce the demand for parking by its employees and students? Does it offer public transport incentives to employees and students? Are enough bicycle racks being provided? Is it participating in any TravelSmart initiatives?

That's about it for Notre Dame.

I'm chuffed that Freo is a university town. I believe that there are a lot of benefits, which in many cases outweigh the costs. I think the MOU has the right focus - getting street activation, and I'm looking forward to seeing it implemented.

And for all those who made it to the end...

Last week I almost vomited on a group of toddlers during a Kiddieland ride at the Royal Show. After a long break and a bratwurst I regained my composure, but my nephew still refused to sit next to me on any rides more lively than the chair lift.


  1. The new MOU is not yet up on the City's website because the document not yet been fully signed by the parties. This is being arranged and as soon as the document is fully signed the new MOU will be posted in the Strategic and key documents page of the City's website.

    Andrew Eastick
    Manager economic development and marketing
    City of Fremantle

  2. Freo is a town with a university located in it but it falls short of being a true university town. To make it a university town we need to see many more students living in or near the CBD and the public persona of the Uni needs to be far more extraverted and willing to give back to the community on important issues such as the activation of High Street. I really want to encourage everyone to work with Notre Dame in making that possible but that also requires some empathy for their needs. We should focus cooperatively on what can be achieved rather than bemoaning what is not yet quite right. You are so right about the question of rates - money that no university or education outlet pays anywhere in Australia, and yet Notre Dame seem to be the whipping boy while TAFE, CUSP and all the others receive almost no criticism at all. Fair go Freo!

    Andrew Sullivan