More than 1500 people have signed an online petition to "save our ocean baths" after City of Newcastle announced plans to redevelop and privatise the baths pavilions at Newcastle and Merewether.
Organiser Jessica Miller said on the change.org petition that public assets "deserve to be treated with respect and maintained in the way they are currently loved and enjoyed by Novocastrians".
The Newcastle Heraldreported last Tuesday that the council's plan to offer the pavilions to the private sector on 21-year leases had earned mixed reviews from swimmers and developers.
Ms Miller said on a new Save Our Ocean Baths Facebook page that council concept designs of what the Newcastle pavilion could look like were "ugly and completely out of character with the look and feel of our beloved baths".
"The proposed developments in Council's Expression of Interest document represent dramatic changes to the look of the Newcastle Baths and the size of public spaces," she said.
"Save Our Ocean Baths, Friends of Newcastle Ocean Baths and many others in the community are calling for real public consultation before deciding how to upgrade both sites."
She called on the council to "listen to the community and ask us for ideas about restoring the pavilions, including keeping both places in public hands".
"This is the only way we can ensure our diverse community will feel welcome at the baths for many generations to come."
The concept designs, issued on Friday, show a box-shaped structure behind the heritage-listed Newcastle baths facade, which must be preserved.
The council said new buildings at Newcastle and Merewether could include restaurants, kiosks and function centres, as well as mandatory toilets and community spaces.
The tender document for Merewether says registered clubs are a permitted use under site's zoning. It says "EOIs are being sought for the demolition and redevelopment of the lease area, excluding the ocean baths".
"Facilities are required to ensure that the lifeguards can appropriately patrol the ocean baths, and that the community has access to a range of suitable facilities at the lease area," it says.
The council made a similar request for expressions of interest in 2014 and proceeded to a tender phase, but nothing came of the project.
Labor councillors pledged before the 2017 council elections to spend $3 million on upgrading Newcastle Ocean Baths in the current council term.
The council called on Friday for expressions of interest in redeveloping the pavilions without councillors debating the issue.
READ FRIDAY'S COUNCIL OCEAN BATHS MEDIA STATEMENT IN FULL
City of Newcastle is inviting expressions of interest to redevelop the iconic Newcastle and Merewether Ocean Baths pavilions in overhauls that could include restaurants, recreational and community facilities and other services.
Newcastle Ocean Bath's iconic art deco exterior is proposed to be retained in any redevelopment, while new public change rooms, disabled access, car parking, new seating, shading and other community facilities will be mandatory inclusions at both sites.
As well as reinvigorating the baths precincts, the final outcomes will promote access to the Bathers Way, preserve views from lifeguard/first aid rooms and provide swimmers year-round protection from prevailing winds.
"Redevelopment of Newcastle and Merewether Ocean Baths pavilions is an exciting opportunity to rejuvenate and enhance public assets by capitalising on Newcastle's unprecedented growth in a long-term partnership with the City," Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said.
"I'm looking forward to seeing proposals. One condition that we have placed on the EOI is that the baths must always remain free public assets.
"The City is committed to improving public and community spaces along our coastline, and a commercial partnership could allow us to significantly enhance and manage these precious facilities in a financially responsible way."
Some 5,800sqm of space is on offer at the 1922-built Newcastle Ocean Baths and 2,200sqm at the Merewether pavilion, under leases of up to 21 years.
City of Newcastle Infrastructure Director Ken Liddell said councillors had made it clear they considered the ocean baths the No.1 infrastructure priority.
"In February the Councillors came together for a two-day strategic planning workshop where they nominated the restoration of the Newcastle Ocean Baths as the single most important infrastructure project for the city," he said.
"Our staff have spent the past six months developing the EOI, as well as resolving a number of potential issues that exist because the baths sit on crown land.
"All issues have been resolved and we are now able to take the projects to the market. Potential uses under zoning regulations for both baths include restaurants, cafes or kiosks, community facilities, and educational facilities or other recreation purposes.
"The EOI will be followed by a tender process for shortlisted respondents before a lease is signed with the City, which is the Reserve Trust Manager of both buildings for the Crown Lands Division of the NSW Government.
"Any redevelopment of these buildings will be subject to DA determination and the successful lessees will be required to provide some facilities managed by the City, so it can continue to provide lifeguard and pool-cleaning services plus community spaces.
"Parties interested in these redevelopments will have to outline their proposed partnership or joint-venture arrangements, concept plans and previous experience with developments of similar scope and scale.
"Proponents will have to comply with heritage controls as the Newcastle Ocean Baths are listed as a local heritage item in the Newcastle Local Environmental Plan 2012 and located within the Newcastle East Heritage Conservation Area."