There are calls for state government help in returning the Bendigo CBD to a vibrant retail and business area, amid growing concern over the state of the precinct.
Representative body Be.Bendigo submitted an application for $100,000 of matched funding over two years for a strategy aiming to improve conditions for traders in October last year, but is yet to hear back.
Be.Bendigo chief executive officer Leah Sertori said the funding would support the co-ordination of promotions, campaigns, events and addressing issues in the CBD, in an effort that would be led by business owners.
It has a focus on the ‘Lyttle Square’ precinct, an area within Mitchell, Williamson, Queen and Myers streets where traders have already come together to work with each other.
Ms Sertori said the proposal had been strongly supported by the City of Greater Bendigo, so it was disappointing the state government was yet to respond.
Numerous shops sit empty in the streets and arcades of the CBD, several of them in Hargreaves Mall alone.
Existing traders have expressed concern about the state of the area.
“It’s certainly… at its lowest in 15 years,” Dymocks owner Harry Hart said, drawing attention to the vacant shops.
Ms Sertori said such an environment undermined the confidence of remaining businesses and affected the consumer’s enjoyment of the space.
It also had an impact on tourism, she said, as the centre of the city shaped the impression visitors had of Bendigo.
The importance to tourism was echoed by Bendigo Tourism chairwoman Kathie Bolitho.
“A vibrant and busy CBD is an essential element to our tourism industry, as attractive shopping and community activities encourage our visitors to stay longer and to immerse themselves into more of our attractions and lifestyle,” Ms Bolitho said.
Ms Sertori said strong co-ordination between traders, achieving a good mix of businesses, and businesses working together to promote and understand one another’s offering helped enable a successful environment.
The resources were available locally, she said, but it was a lack of investment in this space that prevented it being achieved.
Ms Sertori said there were simple measures that could be taken to improve the fortunes of the CBD, such as ensuring empty shop windows were decorated and lit so they did not detract from the surrounding environment and fostered a sense of activity.
Comment has been sought from Regional Development Minister Jaala Pulford.
Plea for shoppers to return to city’s centre
The wider Bendigo community needs to play its part in bringing life back to the city’s CBD, a business owner says.
Jill Cantwell, owner of Jools for Jim, Neon Peach and Royal Jims Barbers, has implored residents to shop in the centre of the city, particularly Hargreaves Mall, and return energy to the area.
“It’s people who create the mood and the experience,” Ms Cantwell said.
The presence of more people shopping and eating in the CBD would discourage antisocial behaviour, she said, and improve the fortunes of existing businesses.
Ms Cantwell said this in turn would encourage new businesses to move in and give existing shops the opportunity to improve their shop fits and stock.
The change would not be immediate, she said, but would be felt in time.
“The mayor and the council are doing an incredible job, but the answer doesn’t lie with them,” she said.
Mayor Margaret O’Rourke also said supporting and improving the CBD was a whole-of-community responsibility, and encouraged people to shop there.
The Bendigo Advertiser will continue to cover this issue in the coming weeks.