FLARING tensions emerged this week in an ongoing battle between Surfers Paradise traders and market stallholders, marring upcoming celebrations marking a major milestone in the city's tourism heart.
The stoush comes as the Surfers Paradise Markets next week celebrates 20 years of operation, but not everyone will be kicking up their heels after new restrictions were placed on stall holders in the wake of an ongoing backlash by permanent traders.
Under the new rules, the markets will close two hours earlier at 8pm giving Surfers Paradise traders the chance to pick up what they say has been lost business during the peak evening trading period.
Although the restrictions are subject to review after a 12-month trial, market stallholders hit back this week with a protest outside the Gold Coast City Council Chambers.
One of the business owners that lobbied for the changes, Old Time Photos owner Andrew Eggleston, says revenue drops by up to 50 per cent in his store on the three nights the market operates.
He adds that Thursdays, when the markets are not on, are busier than Wednesdays and Fridays, when the markets are lively.
"For the market stall holders to be complaining before the trial has even started is just unbelievable," says Eggleston.
"Especially considering the markets are not put on for them, the markets are put on to attract people to benefit the businesses in the Surfers Paradise precinct.
"The traders pay a levy and are funding Surfers Paradise Alliance to the tune of $3 million a year, which is a significant amount of money, and the money is for the promotion of the town and its traders, not the markets."
Eggleston adds that there is more to Surfers Paradise than the markets.
"The market stallholders believe they are Surfers Paradise and that the markets are the biggest thing in town," says Eggleston.
"It will be a sad day for Surfers Paradise if its greatest attraction is a flea market."
SPA CEO Mike Winlaw says it has taken six months to come to the decision to slash operating hours.
"The issue that is emerging is that traders are saying that the markets are taking business away from them in the 8-10pm timeline while stallholders say their best trading time is between those hours," says Winlaw.
"For us it is now trying to work out a way of resolving the best outcomes for the Surfers Paradise precinct and for the visitors that come into the precinct, and making sure we balance the fact that stallholders need to make a living.
"We also want to make sure that we have a market there in the long term because it attracts people but we also need to make sure that we are deriving the maximum benefit for our traders because the traders are the ones that actually pay for us to operate.
"For us it is about mediating both sets of needs but more particularly getting the best outcome for the precinct and, ultimately, the best outcome will sustain the markets but also benefit our traders."
The 12-month trial will be reviewed quarterly and will determine whether or not the reduced hours are of benefit to traders.
Winlaw says SPA will monitor foot traffic and develop a consultancy to communicate with traders in all market segments to gather feedback and data, as well as discuss the progress with stallholders and market visitors.
Gold Coast Central Chamber of Commerce president Peter Yared says business owners and market stallholders need to give the trial a chance.
"Until we test it and see if it works for both parties, it is going to be very hard to ascertain the best approach moving forward it is a good starting point," says Yared.
The Surfers Paradise Markets will hold a celebration on May 15 to mark 20 years in operation. The evening will feature fireworks on the foreshore and entertainment.
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