How many revamped precincts does one city need?
We South Australians have some harebrained ideas sometimes. This week, Adelaide City Council decided to push ahead with multi-million dollar plans to revitalise the dreary and deserted Victoria Square into a major CBD hub.
That’s despite the fact that the State Government is already pushing ahead with its own multi-BILLION dollar plans to revitalise the nearby Riverbank precinct as the new city’s heart and soul.
After lengthy debate on Tuesday night, Adelaide City Council voted to invest $11.5 million on Victoria Square – despite the fact that there’s no commitment from the state or federal government to cough up the $100 million needed to complete the project.
That means only $1.7 million is left in this year’s budget to begin revitalising the CBD’s ageing retail strip, Rundle Mall. To my mind, that’s daft for a couple of reasons.
Traditional shopping malls are under pressure right across Australia. Borders bookstores are gone and just this week Colorado announced the closure of 109 stores plus 31 Mathers, Williams, Diana Ferrari and Jag outlets.
Online shopping is where it’s at. I bought boots for 70 per cent off recommended retail from online sales website Buy Invite, and Lego at 60 per cent off. It’s bad for SA jobs I know, but how do you ignore 70 per cent off the boots you can’t find in Adelaide anyway?
Retail experts predict that online and mobile purchases will soon account for 10 per cent of total consumer spending in Australia, and the figure could eventually rise as high as 30 per cent.
Add to this the fierce competition from suburban precincts offering undercover browsing and free parking. Not to mention the designated tourism precincts that, unlike the Mall, can trade on public holidays.
Anne Moran, one of two councillors who failed in their bid on Tuesday to shift funds from Victoria Square to Rundle Mall, says the CBD accounted for 15 per cent of the state’s retail sales when she started on council in the 1990s. It’s now down to five per cent.
“If we reinvest the Victoria Square budget into Rundle Mall for the next three years, even without outside funding we’ll be able to finish the revitalisation plan in time for inner-city football by 2014,” Ms Moran says.
“We’ve only got one shot at showing these crowds that the Mall is alive and welcoming – imagine a lively Rundle Mall with little cafes and wine bars in some of the laneways like Charles Street. It would be great for the city.”
Let’s face it. Rundle Mall is like a tired old aunt – you remember her fondly but can find plenty of excuses not to visit. Car parking rates can be extortionate, constantly wafting cigarette smoke is gross, it often seems dirty and at night it feels scary.
With some solid council funding and a little ingenuity to make it more enticing and bring its laneways to life, the mall would quickly generate new income for the city: more shoppers, more high-end destination boutiques and more people flowing in after football games at Adelaide Oval in a few years’ time.
I know the council is under pressure to stop talking and start acting on Victoria Square. But surely the game changed when the State Government honed in on the Riverbank and announced billions to build the new RAH, extend the convention centre, tizzy up Torrens Lake and bring football back to Adelaide Oval.
And let’s face it. Without massive investment to create a big attraction that draws people in, Victoria Square will only ever be a thoroughfare.
Vic Square’s time will come. But not before there’s enough cash on the table to do it right (with an underpass and more than a few extra pavers) and the population base to sustain two new inner-city outdoor meccas.
For now, council should turn its attention to Rundle Mall – ensuring her status as Adelaide’s premier retail hub and making her pretty in time for the Riverbank party.
Are there any renewal projects in your home town or city which you think are desperately needed, or that are on the cards but seem like a total waste of time and money? The Punch encourages you to broaden this discussion and cite examples below.
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