Wollongong City’s new leaders will be responsible for the fate of business growth and new opportunities in the CBD when they make a decision about the Crown St Mall DA at tonight’s Wollongong City Council meeting, according to the Property Council of Australia.
Property Council Illlawarra Chair David Laing said the organisation had written to council, discussed the issue face-to-face with some representatives and offered assistance to seek evidence-based information on revitalising city centres, including hosting a day bus trip to visit other cities where CBDs had been reactivated to speak to businesses.
“Council are commended for wanting to commit to CBD improvements. Unfortunately, they consider supporting the current DA to remove obstacles and give the Mall a paint job will create economic opportunities – it won’t,” Mr Laing said.
“The city centre does need public funding to create greater opportunities linking with the increased private sector investment, but this current DA was conceived by a council under administration with no ambition to lead the city to its full potential.
“Why are we settling for this as our answer to the city centre’s decline when companies like the GPT Group want to create a different, inspiring offering for the people of Wollongong?
“The purpose of a central business district is to grow business opportunities, places where our residents can seek jobs. This in turn creates more people movement and the financial capacity for people to spend money on retail products, recreation and entertainment.
“This is our vested interest, to help the businesses within the CBD to grow, to attract investment and to create a better public domain offering for all of us who work and live here.”
Mr Laing said the Property Council were included in workshops where urban planners and city revitalisation experts have delicately advised the council that reactivating the city centre within the context of wider city centre precinct planning would grow the CBD economy beyond traditional retail hours and create a safer city centre, but this wasn’t incorporated into the council report.
He said the organisation also offered the professional expertise of its national member network, including JBA Planning Partner Julie Bindon who completed research on malls for Penrith, Blacktown, Woollahra and Waverley councils.
Ms Bindon said world-wide cities were reopening Malls successfully, breathing life back into the business and retail mix and vitality to the public amenity.
“We did our studies for the Sydney councils sometime ago as growing evidence world-wide supported the need to reconsider pedestrian malls located near large purpose-built shopping centres and neighbouring, competitive centres,” Ms Bindon said.
“The outcome of the (JBA) study was that Penrith Council ripped up the mall and replaced it with the High Street you see today, a well designed and relatively thriving ‘main street’ with traffic calmed by parking on both sides, landscaped ‘blisters’ and occasional widening (for cafes etc), plus mid block pedestrian crossings. It works so much better than when it was a rundown mall.
“This was immediately recognised as a success story to the extent that Blacktown Council asked JBA to undertake a similar study for its street mall. That too resulted in the Blacktown mall being replaced by a well-designed, traffic-calmed street.
“On a roll, the Bondi Junction Chamber of Commerce then decided to see if they could present the same logic to the councils of Waverley and Woollahra to do the same thing for the Oxford Street mall, and we worked on that proposal also. Unfortunately local politics got in the way. Whilst Woollahra was interested in restoring a street, Waverley refused and so nothing happened. I understand it continues to struggle today. It’s a classic example of what happens when the mall was retained.”
The Property Council has given WCC research they previously commissioned for Wollongong about reactivating city centres and recommended updating that information to seek the best outcome for the redevelopment of the Crown St Mall, including the possibility of eventually reopening it to slow-moving traffic in some capacity.
The study should go beyond the current DA proposed for the Crown St Mall redevelopment and include:
its relationship with the GPT’s $250 expansion of Wollongong Central, including the physical and economic correlation to this project and considerations of potential impediments to this project proceeding;
the current land use within the centre and neighbouring sites, including key development sites;
current and potential usage/precinct planning of the city centre and its very relevant surrounds, for example western Crown St, McCabe Park, the medical precinct and university accommodation;
economic considerations beyond the direct jobs in the redevelopment and potential retail growth, such as stalled commercial projects, future usage and potential growth plans for major land owners and tenants;
safety considerations including the usage and relationships to public domain areas beyond the Crown St Mall;
Public domain design beyond the development site – the DA addresses Crown St Mall proper in terms of lighting, paving, landscaping, but appears to ignore the interrelationship with adjoining areas such as Globe Lane, western Crown St or Keira St;
Current mobility/access in and around city for all user groups;
Regional city context, the role of the regional city and its relationship with neighbouring and competitive centres.
The Property Council believes if this work is not enabled, the city area where the Mall is located will continue to be considered unsafe and remain empty for 16 hours a day, let alone struggle to attract major tenants to operate outside “Mall operating hours”.
“The evidence is already there - the more successful areas of our city are active for a large portion of the day because of their accessibility,” Mr Laing said.
“Wollongong needs to be contemporary, vibrant, attractive, economically viable, sustainable and liveable for all the potential users and visitors to this location with a 24 hour, people-based economy. It also needs to be distinct as the regional city, a destination beyond a retail offering in order to compete with successful nearby shopping centres, commercial precincts and leisure areas.”
Media contact information:
Mr David Laing, Illawarra Chair, Property Council of Australia
Ph: 0419 284626
Ms Julie Bindon, JBA Planning Partner
Ph: 0414 746962