Management of The Westin Melbourne held crisis talks with several penthouse owners on Monday in a bid to head off a court challenge that threatens to derail a plan by Tennis Australia to use the exclusive hotel as a quarantine facility for hundreds of international players.
Several apartment owners were seen entering the luxury hotel late on Monday afternoon including prominent businessman Tony Schiavello, Andrew Bertocchi from the smallgoods empire and property developer David Marriner who built the Westin in 2000.
The Westin Melbourne in Collins Street.Credit:Luis Ascui
The parties were unable to reach a resolution on Monday evening and will meet again on Tuesday morning with senior figures from the Andrews government to help avert further interruptions to the prized event.
The Age revealed on Monday that the owners of 36 private penthouses in the Collins Street hotel were considering a Supreme Court injunction, amid fears the proposal had been hastily put together and could lead to another COVID-19 outbreak.
Tennis Australia negotiated with the Victorian government for several months before brokering a deal on December 18 to host the event at Melbourne Park from February 8 that would have seen overseas players quarantine at the Westin from January 15.
But the apartment owners claim they were not consulted before the deal was struck and never consented to the arrangement.
The Australian Open will bring players from hot spots into Australia.Credit:AP
The Westin is determined that the plan proceed following a slump in occupancy because of COVID-19 and the lockdown imposed by the state government.
In an email on December 23, the hotel's general manager Stephen Ferrigno said the "opportunity to accept the international tennis players from 15/16 January, 2021 presented itself as a lifeline to the hotel business and, at the same time, an opportunity to support the community we live in".
The hotel is understood to have offered $150,000 to the owners before the meeting at 4pm on Monday.
A source with knowledge of the meeting who was not authorised to speak on behalf of the owners corporation said the increasingly bitter dispute would not be resolved with a financial settlement.
Property developer David Marriner owns an apartment in the Westin.Credit:Jessica Shapiro
"That amount of money is fairly inconsequential and the meeting will be extremely brief if they think that will placate us," the source said.
The owners, some of whom live permanently in the building, are particularly concerned about the lack of information regarding airconditioning and the potential to transmit the virus between floors via ducts and vents.
Acting Premier Jacinta Allan defended the decision to house Australian Open players in a Melbourne hotel that also has residential apartments, saying any premises involved in the tennis agreement had "very strong" infection control measures.
She said the hotels to be used by players and staff connected to the game had been signed off by COVID Quarantine Victoria and decisions were "based on and ticked off" by the public health team.
“Those arrangements at the Westin and other accommodation venues used by the Australian Open go through that same rigorous process where there are very strict and strong infection prevention and control in place for each and every venue that is associated with either the Australian Open or our hotel quarantine program,” Ms Allan said.
When asked if staff and tennis players who test positive to COVID-19 would be moved to a designated "hot hotel", Ms Allan said “that’s something I’ll have to get back to you on” and “let’s hope that doesn’t happen”.
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