The Prawnster is at risk of being evicted from its berth at Dockside Marina (editor's note: the marina has survived the floods) unless a Wednesday meeting between the Queensland Government and Brisbane City Council produces a last-minute stay of execution.
The state government, which is responsible for seabed leases, handed the popular seafood restaurant an eviction notice earlier this month. It was spurred on by a resident petition, the ABC reports.
Also under threat at Dockside Marina are other popular businesses such as Aquarius Charters, Brisvegas Cruises, Brisbane Jet Skis, Goboat and Yot Club.
Triggering the eviction notice is the use of the residential marina for commercial purposes, despite The Prawnster owner Martin Brennan saying he’s received legal advice that he isn’t in breach of the lease.
“It’s just absolutely crushing,” Brennan told Broadsheet yesterday.
Brennan is frustrated by the turn of events after he says he was initially directed to moor at the marina by the Queensland Department of Resources and Brisbane Economic Development Agency (then Brisbane Marketing).
“I spent two years talking with senior parties in Brisbane Marketing,” Brennan said. “I had collaborative discussions with them and with people in the Department of Resources, whose job it is between them to try and make sure they facilitate business. They were pretty aware that there was nowhere to go so they introduced us to the marina owner [Ken Allsop].
“And at that stage, the Department of Resources checked the lease and said, ‘Look, we probably need to tidy up the lease and make it clear that commercial business can be there,’” Brennan said. “I know at that stage, they started to work with the marina owner to fix the lease. Two years later, it’s still not fixed and now they’re turfing people out.”
As it currently stands, Brennan and his fellow operators have until next Friday March 4 to find new locations or risk having to close.
“The bottom line is we’ve nowhere to go – absolutely nowhere to go – come March 4,” Brennan said. “And the government knows that.
“I had a conversation with the guy who actually signed the notice. I said, ‘I’m not a troublemaker. I want to comply with your notice … can you tell me where to go? Please tell me where I can go.’ And he was silent. I said, ‘You know and I know there is nowhere to go.’”
Mayor Adrian Schrinner has taken up the cause of the commercial operators.
“Brisbane is a river city, but unless the state bureaucracy backs off, we’re at risk of being a city without any river tourism businesses,” Schrinner stated in a Facebook post last week. “The government needs to step in urgently to prevent these tourism operators being left up the creek without a paddle.”
A spokesperson for resources minister Scott Stewart told the ABC that a meeting between the minister and Schrinner would take place “next week”. Brennan understands it will take place Wednesday.
“I’m grateful for the fact he’s weighing in,” Brennan said. “It will be really interesting to see what comes of the meeting … They’ll either come up with a deal so we have a way forward for these guys and their families. Or, you know, it’ll turn into a political point-scoring match, which doesn’t save any of us.”
Brennan has also been heartened by a Change.org petition supporting the operators, which at the time of writing had accumulated more than 1100 signatures.
The eviction notice comes after a long two years for Australian hospitality businesses spent grappling with the pandemic.
“It damages your business internally,” Brennan said. “It damages your brand, and it damages your customer confidence. I had a person ring the other day and they pulled a 50-person dinner. That’s big for us. We only sit 70 people.”
Still, Brennan is quietly confident a solution will be reached.
“We’re still buying local product and we intend to continue serving until someone tells us to stop,” he said. “I don’t know what they can do, practically. I don’t know who is going down to tell me to close my doors. I don’t think anyone wants to. So we [are] just gonna keep trying to do business as usual until they find the solution.”