Tourist data paints grim picture for gallery
GALLERIES and cafes normally make a mean team as a tourist drawcard, providing visitors with a one-stop destination for a coffee or lunch date and the opportunity to soak up the artistic culture on offer.
Unfortunately the Grafton Regional Gallery has been missing half the formula since May last year, a sore point with many of the visitors and locals who frequent the venue.
Visitor numbers released by the gallery track the decline of visitors as far back as 2012 when the long-established Georgies at the Gallery stopped trading at the premises.
Data from then until the end of 2014 reveals an almost 50% decline in visitors with some sporadic increases coinciding with large exhibition openings like the Archibald or Jacaranda Acquisitive Drawing Award.
The opening of other cafes at the gallery helped improve figures temporarily but they have never returned to the levels recorded when the popular Georgies was operating at the venue.
Members of the Gallery's Foundation met at the venue yesterday and expressed their concerns about the detrimental impact that not having a cafe at the gallery was having on the facility and Clarence tourism in general.
"Visitors are extremely disappointed when they come along and see there is no cafe. Every gallery in the world has a cafe with it," Foundation secretary Annette Griffien said.
And it's not just visitors beyond the Clarence that are affected.
"People used to travel here from Yamba and make a day of it, have some lunch and do some shopping but that's gone now," fellow member Gai Pritchett added.
Foundation president Rod Watters said the gallery's potential is enormous but it had been like "two senior ladies and a brown dog since January" as far as visitors go.
"We used to get up to 40,000 visitors a year, now it's half of that," he said.
"Council is looking at this the wrong way.
"This place is a magnet for tourists and locals, it drives economic development of the valley and far outweighs any small rental stream that council might demand.
"It's no contest. The potential here has been unrealised."
Foundation member Elizabeth Fahey said she has received numerous complaints, the latest from a lady who drives a bus for the disadvantaged over from Byron Bay.
"She finds it really disconcerting that they can't buy a drink or have something to eat while they are here to see the exhibitions," Ms Fahey said.
"The atmosphere is certainly not as nice as it could be."
Clarence Valley Council environment, planning and community director Des Schroder said council understood the benefits of having a cafe co-located at the Grafton Regional Gallery.
"They complement each other," he said. "It is a much better experience for gallery visitors if they can sit down and have a coffee or a meal in the gallery surrounds while they are there. And for those who attend for a beverage or a meal, the gallery provides a perfect backdrop and feel.
"There have been some delays in getting the gallery lease finalised but we're in negotiations now so I hope we'll be able to announce a new tenant soon."
Until last year the council managed the gallery lease, but in September decided to appoint a commercial real estate agent to manage leasing arrangements.
But Mr Schroder said a number of improvements had to be made to the kitchen before it was leased. He said the appointed agent had also been unable to attend to the task due to other business matters.
"These issues have now been dealt with and I understand the agent is involved in discussions with prospective tenants at the moment," he said.
"We can't give a definitive time for when the gallery restaurant/cafe will reopen but we're hopeful it will be soon.
"I know that for supporters of the gallery it can't come soon enough but the leasing agent also needs to make sure the new leaseholders complement what the gallery has to offer."