Mt.Buffalo Community Enterprise: Final Update
Back in 2010, we started hearing about the Mt.Buffalo Community Enterprise (MBCE) – a group established to take over the lease of the Mt Buffalo Chalet. At the time, David Brookes, Managing Director of Social Traders said, “The proposed redevelopment of the Chalet by the North East community has the potential to create an iconic social enterprise for Victoria and we welcome the opportunity to support the business planning process over the next 12 months.”
We received a final update from the group today, along with an open letter to the community which we reprint in full below. The MBCE is wrapping up, but support for the Chalet to be used as accommodation is still strong, and the local community is discussing further public meetings with the shire council, so stay involved if you have the chance.
Open Letter to the Community
In 2009, a group of 17 North East residents got together to develop a plan to restore and rejuvenate Mt Buffalo Chalet. As most people know, Mt Buffalo Chalet is a 100 year old heritage listed guest house that closed down in 2007. Today, it remains closed and decaying behind cyclone wire fencing.
We formed a community-owned enterprise that could take over the Chalet and give it a new and viable future. We did it because the prevailing Government policy at the time seemed to rely on some ‘white knight developer’ riding in to save the Chalet. We didn’t and still don’t believe in that. We think the Government and community have to face up to the inherent limitations of the Chalet as a commercial proposition and take ownership of it as a core heritage and community asset. That needs a change in mind-set.
So we lodged a tender, put together a business plan, engaged architects and developed a concept to restore and reopen the Chalet. Our Plan was to cost some $50 million, of which we were seeking about $33.0 million from the State Government. Our community ownership model offered a way to pool Government and private investment with 51% of profits going back to into the community through a separate Mt Buffalo Community Foundation.
Unfortunately, the Government has not supported our proposal. In a recent announcement, Environment Minister Ryan Smith has allocated funds to do further research into options and what the future for the Chalet might be.
On this basis, the members of Mt Buffalo Community Enterprise Pty Ltd. formally resolved on 27 March 2012 to commence wind-up proceedings for our company. We have recognised that the Government has chosen to explore other directions and options and not to follow the community ownership path we proposed for the Chalet.
The Minister says that the Government does not believe that accommodation can be a viable option at Mt Buffalo in the future. We don’t agree. We think it can be viable if the Government is prepared to invest in the necessary infrastructure. More than that, accommodation is intrinsic to what the Chalet is. The situation the Chalet finds itself in can be put down to many decades –under governments of both persuasions – of inadequate investment.
Mt Buffalo Community Enterprise developed a Plan that would restore that Chalet to its former glory, respect its heritage status, and at the same time bring it up to being a 21st century visitor destination. Our vision was to get the people of Victoria and the North East to become actual shareholders in a community-owned, 21st Century Chalet. Under our plan, it would have a modern day visitor interpretative centre and cafe complex as well as accommodation. Our Plan would see the Chalet become –again – a ‘must-see’ visitor destination as a focal point for the whole North East.
The shareholders of Mt Buffalo Community Enterprise accept the Government’s decision. However, our passion and desire to save the Chalet has not diminished.
Our fear now is that the flawed presumption that accommodation can never again work up at the Chalet will gain legs. Our fear is that the accommodation at the Chalet will be demolished to make way for a limited, half-hearted cafe /parks office without first having a grand plan and institutional structure for ownership in place.
If that happens, it will mean that in fact we haven’t saved Mt Buffalo Chalet at all. We will have preserved some of the physical remnants of a former Chalet as some type of museum piece.
Our position remains that Mt Buffalo Chalet should be preserved and rejuvenated as an iconic guesthouse/accommodation and visitor destination for future generations to enjoy. It has the potential to be a significant generator of employment and economic benefit as well as community benefit. As a community, we need to find a way to make the significant investment necessary to achieve that. Indeed, if this is the Government’s goal, we will wholeheartedly support it.
The members of Mt Buffalo Community Enterprise would like to say thank you to everyone in the community who has supported us in our efforts over the past 2 years. We entered this process, in good faith, only because we care about Mt Buffalo Chalet. We are proud of the Plans we developed – they have stood up to significant financial, technical and heritage scrutiny.
What Happens Now?
There is clearly still a need for a broad-based community advocacy group to be formed to advocate into the Government on the communities behalf – “Save Our Chalet”. We have approached Alpine Shire to convene a public meeting in the next month or so to discuss what such a group might look like, ascertain interest and get things moving.
We hope like-minded people and institutions across Victoria and the North East will continue through other channels to advocate and agitate so our children and grand children can one day enjoy a genuine experience of Mt Buffalo Chalet.
John Brown AO
Mt Buffalo Community Enterprise Pty. Ltd.