The newly constructed Frankston Station stands tall and stark white above the freshly palm tree-lined Young Street. It’s a completely different look for the infamous beachside suburb. What was once a grim and dull streetscape now resembles a thriving upper-class environment.
On the surface, the changes are obvious. A shiny new train station, cobbled pavements and an all-around friendlier and more welcoming “gateway to the Peninsula”. However, one look past the polished exterior reveals Frankston’s underlying problem was never the way it looked.
Over 70 weeks, the heart of Frankston was transformed by a multi-million dollar project, spearheaded by the State Government. At the beginning of the $63 million project, Frankston locals were promised reduced congestion, wider footpaths, better bus interchanges and ultimately “something that the community can be proud of”. It seems, however, that Premier Daniel Andrews and Victorian Government were grossly out of touch with what Frankston really needed.
Local business owner, Tony Cimorelli, is largely unimpressed by the government’s attempt to boost Frankston’s reputation, describing it as “like dressing up a monkey”.
“We were told we would see a great difference but nothing has changed,” he says. “Still the first thing you hear when you get off the train is people asking for smokes and cash.”
Frankston has long been known for the “dodgy” environment created by the behaviours of the people that gather there. It is not unusual to feel harassed or intimidated walking down the streets, regardless of the time of day. Mr Cimorelli and several other business owners along Young Street, agree that the money would have been better spent on improving social behaviours.
“Sure it looks nice, but the priority should have been to get the drug dealers into jail and getting addicts the help they need.”
And they’re not the only ones to notice the lack of change in this regard.
Child care worker, Emily Kinna, travels right through the heart of Frankston on the bus every day for work and has done so since before the development began. Ms Kinna expressed her extreme discomfort with travelling through the area.
“I see the same people every day now that I did beforehand,” she says. “There’s always some junkie asking for drugs or money. I’ve seen so many fights and arguments break out right by the bus stops and it honestly scares me sometimes.”
Mr Cimorelli believes the extended construction phase is partly to blame for the apparent surge in anti-social behaviours. Many locals avoided the area during this period as roads were blocked off and driving through the street became a hassle.
“The more functioning members of the community were driven out by the construction and detours,” he says, “What was meant to be a 16 week project took well over a year to complete. It became too hard for anyone to access the area and we were just left with the riff-raff.”
The construction was set further back as the narrowed streets, combined with the addition of the widened median strip, did not leave enough room for buses to pull into the stops. This became a large source of embarrassment for the project developers. Commuters witnessed first-hand the trouble caused by the narrow streets.
Ms Kinna recalls the traffic jams caused by buses hanging half on the road before the problem was solved.
“Surely with $63 million they could have hired someone to actually measure the buses!”
Unfortunately the mayhem caused by the construction phase didn’t end here.
According to Mr Cimorelli, many businesses on Young Street and surrounding side streets were forced to shut down. This is evident by the ever growing number of permanently closed roller doors, marring the street’s shiny new design. Other business owners fear they could be next, anticipating the effects to last.
“The impact on businesses was severe,” he says. “People lost their homes and everything they had worked for, because the customers just weren’t coming while the construction was happening. What we’ve been delivered is not worth what we went through.”
And what they’ve been delivered is nothing more than a new train station, that the community feels was unnecessary. Ms Kinna feels that the removal of the level crossing further down the road was where the development should have ended.
“There was nothing wrong with how the station functioned,” she says. “Obviously the level crossing was dangerous and needed to go, but that $63 million would have been better spent elsewhere.”
For Ms Kinna and the hundreds that utilise Frankston’s public transport, the money spent on palm trees, should have been injected into the bus companies.
“Most of the time the buses are too full during the peak times, so I have to wait an extra half an hour because the bus isn’t taking any passengers. Put more buses on, put more trains on. Why can’t we have 15 minute buses during peak hour?”
The redesigned train station has also copped its fair share of criticism. Although the modern design is refreshing and neat, the impracticality of the high roof, especially, has left commuters out in the cold.
“The rain drives right in there,” says Ms Kinna, who also uses the train service in addition to the buses, “You’re completely exposed to the wind and the elements, it’s just not sensible.”
“There’s also nothing about the building that screams ‘this belongs to Frankston’”, she adds, “It’s a stark white wall, no community artwork, nothing that reflects the people and the community. It’s just waiting to be vandalised.”
The Victorian Government’s attempt to “dress up a monkey”, as Mr Cimorelli put it, shows how out of touch leaders are with their communities.
“What we need in Frankston is good, strong leadership”, says Mr Cimorelli, “It’s something we haven’t had here for a long time, in local council and at state level.”
It’s a sentiment shared by others in the community, who feel they have been left out and forgotten, abandoned by those who are meant to represent them. With an election looming, Frankston locals are left wondering whether any party can deliver what they really need.
Mr Cimorelli adds, “We should be working as a community in the best interest for those that live and work here. Frankston has the potential to thrive in the way that Springvale does, but we can’t do that with leaders working against us.”
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews hinged the project on it being something the community could be proud of. Millions of dollars and countless set-backs later, the general consensus among locals is that they feel the opposite of pride. The modern, stark white station and the increasingly wilting palm trees have only sapped the Frankston out of Frankston.
“It’s not Frankston, it’s not us. The street looks like it was ripped from St Kilda, somewhere in the city. We didn’t need it, we didn’t want it,” says Ms Kinna.
Mr Cimorelli wholeheartedly agrees.
“I’m certainly not proud of it. After all the bad the whole project has done, what is there to be proud of?”