Ararat feels the pinch as it awaits news on prison project

ARARAT business leaders believe the city's economy continues to suffer as residents anxiously await news about the beleaguered prison project.

The State Government had given Aegis, the consortium behind the Ararat Prison redevelopment, until yesterday to present a proposition for the project.

But yesterday, the government would not confirm if it had received any plans from the consortium.

The $350-million redevelopment was thrown into chaos in May after the construction group responsible for the project, St Hilliers Construction, went into voluntary administration.

St Hilliers Ararat part of a consortium contracted to the project also went into liquidation, leaving several Wimmera contractors and sub-contractors unpaid and out of work.

The consortium was placed in administration in June.

Ararat business owners have reported a down-turn in business since the project's collapse.

Ararat Central Motel owner Andrew Eastick, who also owns Eastick Homes, said a number of prison construction workers had stayed at the motel before work at the prison stopped.

"It was more the short-term contractors staying at the motel if they were staying for a long time they would rent a house," he said.

"What I have noticed is that we have closed up as a town because of it. People are cautious and have stopped spending.

"Homes have stopped being built. There are a lot of businesses hurting."

Sicilians Restaurant owner Bud Bourizk said he noticed a drop in trade.

"During the week we had workers coming in but lately it has been very quiet," he said.

"That was always a little bonus.

"We are busy on weekends anyway but from Monday to Thursday we normally had a couple of extra people rostered on which we don't need now."

Wimpy's Court House Hotel owner Lisa Thoburne said she too had been affected.

"There are not as many workmen coming in.

They used to come and have a drink after work," she said. "We used to sell food to them as well.

"Someone needs to step in and get things back on track. The quicker it's done the better."

Ararat Rural City Council chief executive Andrew Evans said he had not heard of any developments as of yesterday afternoon.

"They say no news is good news but I'm not sure in this situation if that is the case," he said.

"The government and consortium have been deep in discussions for a few months. One of the hopes we had was that yesterday would be about announcing whatever agreement they had come to.

"It is very sad. We will wait and see but there is not a lot we can do at this point."

Mr Evans said there was no doubt Ararat people and the city's economy were feeling the strain.

"The key thing from our point of view is that it is sorted as quickly as possible, particularly for the contractors who are out of pocket they need the money in order to get on with their lives," he said.

"We assumed that when construction stopped other work would become available in the prison itself, but construction has stopped and there is no extra work.

"We talk about the best of both worlds, but this is the worst of both worlds."

Work stopped at Ararat prison redevelopment in May. Picture: PAUL CARRACHER

Work stopped at Ararat prison redevelopment in May. Picture: PAUL CARRACHER