Over 250 people attended a community meeting about the fate of the Whyalla Beach Café on Wednesday, with the overwhelming majority calling for it to return.
The Whyalla City council-owned building that the café resides in was closed on January 4 following 14 non-compliances with the Food Act 2001, with council stating that an investment of 'hundreds of thousands of dollars' would be required to bring the building up to standard.
Whyalla Mayor Clare McLaughlin, Council CEO Justin Commons, Independent Senator Rex Patrick and Member for Giles Eddie Hughes all delivered presentations to the packed floor of the Westland Hotel Oasis Room.
Both Mayor McLaughlin and Mr Commons focused on council's rationale behind the decision, and referenced photos showing significant issues with the café including insufficient ventilation, damage to the walls and floor, and a kitchen too small for proper storage of freezers and other food stuffs.
Also included in the presentation was council's capital expenditure on the café. which revealed that just over $400,000 had been spent on upgrades between 2011 and 2015, including $218,450 on a toilet upgrade and external work, and $207,125 on a café extension.
However the last time council invested in the café was in 2016, spending just under $1300 to purchase and install an outside blind - no money has been spent on upgrades since.
Senator Patrick presented a petition signed by over 1600 residents calling for council to reverse their decision to Mayor McLaughlin, which will be tabled at an upcoming council meeting.
Giles MP Eddie Hughes was understanding of council's decision and said he was happy with the temporary solution to have food vans on the foreshore, but also encouraged council to resolve the situation as soon as possible and get a café back into the building.
These presentations were followed by a heated open mic session facilitated by Gabrielle Kelly, where the community raised a number of burning questions about the café.
These included why so little had been spent on the café in the last five years, why the issues with the building weren't addressed before previous owners Nik and Anna Petropoulos began their tenancy, and what monetary figure exactly would be required to bring the facility up to standard.
Asked whether council should have acted before Mr Petropoulos began his tenancy, Mayor McLaughlin said significant funds had been spent over the past 10 years, but that this primarily focused on improving amenity and accessibility, with hundreds of thousands of dollars still required to meet modern health, safety and building standards.
Ms McLaughlin said the condition of the building was therefore a legacy issue, which is why council is acting now to address the issue and listen to the community's needs.
"We can't change what's happened in the past, so the current council's recent focus has been on the decision that we were legally obliged to make, which removed both the health and safety and public health risks associated with the provision of hot food from a council-owned building." she said.
"We now need to look to the future and use our collective passion to find workable solutions that meet the entire community's needs, both in the short-term and longer-term."
Ms McLaughlin thanked the residents who attended the forum, who made it clear they would like a facility operating at the beach, and as soon as possible.
"Tonight was our first step in consulting the community to find out exactly what they want," she said.
"We also need to hear from the broader community, so our next step will be a survey regarding the possible options for the facility. This is expected to be available next week and will be promoted extensively to ensure as many people as possible can have their say.
"I urge the community to also consider this issue with a longer-term focus, as we will be conducting extensive community consultation from next month on the Foreshore Master Plan, looking at the future of the entire precinct."
In the meantime, she encouraged residents to head down to the foreshore and experience the reactivation of this space that will occur over the coming months.
"There will be evolving food and activities on offer - as well as plenty of shelter, tables and chairs - so please engage with the space, let us know what you like and think about how the precinct could be better utilised for the long-term," she said.
To provide feedback on the beach café prior to the release of the survey, visit https://www.whyalla.sa.gov.au/our-city/news-and-events/latest-news/foreshore-precinct-hub.
Former owner Nik Petropoulos also attended the meeting and thanked the community and council for their support during his time running the Beach Café. He also thanked Senator Patrick and Mr Hughes for rallying around him.
Resident Stephen Fisher said he was hoping for council to implement a 'long-term fix' to the issue, and install a 'smaller and more sustainable' café on the foreshore that meets the regulations.
"I reckon that's what the people of Whyalla want, I want to see a bigger and better café," he said.
A final decision on the future of the building will be made at an upcoming council meeting.