Sutherland Shire mayor Carmelo Pesce could be chosen to operate the new cafe being built by Elouera Surf Life Saving Club following a public tender process.
Cr Pesce, who owns Bianchini’s Espresso at Gymea and Cronulla, was among eight parties who responded to the club’s call for tenders.
It is understood the field was narrowed down to two, with the final choice between bids by Cr Pesce and Ray Nelson and his family, who operate Zimzala cafe-restaurant on Cronulla beach.
Mr Nelson said they withdrew at the eleventh hour because they wanted to seek changes to the approved development application (DA), which the club was reluctant to accept because it would have delayed the opening of the cafe.
Cr Pesce said he had no involvement in the cafe as a councillor.
He said the DA for the new cafe was approved by council planning officers under delegated authority before tenders were called.
Before submitting his tender, he had checked with the club and the council’s general manager Scott Phillips “to see if it was OK”.
“They said as long as it was a public tender, there was no problem,” he said.
Cr Pesce said he declared an interest, and left the room, in November last year when the council discussed and voted to lease the extra land to the surf club for the cafe.
The cafe is being built as an extension on the northern side of the clubhouse.
The tender process was conducted by David Greig, of real estate agency McGrath Sylvania Waters, who is a surf club member.
Mr Greig said eight tenders were received after an extensive advertising campaign.
“We put it out far and wide,” he said.
“There was an amazing response from some very successful operators.”
Mr Greig said financial terms had been discussed, but an operator had not yet been chosen.
He said the club still had a funding “gap” to fill so that construction of the cafe could be completed.
“For obvious reasons, we need to work out what sort of rent someone is willing to pay and that’s been addressed by the process,” he said.
Mr Greig said the club was looking to have the cafe open about the start of spring this year.
Cr Pesce said, if he was awarded the lease, the cafe would be named Bianchini’s Espresso, as were his other two operations.
It would be similar to his Gymea cafe, offering breakfast and lunch.
“If I am successful, I want to do things like fish and chips baskets that are affordable for the community and club members,” he said.
“A big part of it would be building a relationship with the club members.”
Cr Pesce said Elouera was “the missing link” in the Cronulla’s cafe scene, and did not even have a kiosk.
“I think a cafe will go very well there,” he said.
Ray Nelson said his family “put a lot of time, effort and money into design and planning, so we are pretty disappointed walking away from it”.
Mr Nelson said they would have wanted to change several aspects of the approved DA.
They had proposed slightly increasing the size of the kitchen, and opening it up.
Mr Nelson said, due to a noise issue, the cafe was being built out of concrete blocks and “it looks like a bunker”.
He said they would also have wanted to extend trading hours beyond the approved 7pm, particularly in the warmer months.
“The more we talked to the club the more we became aware of the DA process,” he said.
“We were not prepared to lock into what might have been a long battle with council.
“I don’t blame the club – it would have taken time, and they said they just wanted to build what was approved.
“I think Carmelo will make it work.”
Mr Nelson said he and his wife Narelle were planning retirement, and their daughter Rebecca Nelson was “the driving force” at Zimzala.
Had they been awarded the Elouera lease, it would have been their daughter’s business and they would have sold Zimzala.
They had received a number of approaches about selling Zimzala.
“We have spent eight years building up Zimzala, and business is massive,” he said.
”Now, we will just dig in at Zimzala and make it even stronger.”