A FINALISED council plan for the Bendigo CBD has been critical of past redesigns of Hargreaves Mall, and found the mall’s vacancy rates are the worst “in recent memory”.
It proposed a range of short and medium-term measures to address a lack of “shade, colour and softness” in the shopping strip, and hoped to capitalise on planned CBD investment in the coming decade.
A proposed Gov Hub at the council’s Lyttleton Terrace offices could see 1000 people based at the site, which the council hopes will reinvigorate the northern part of the CBD and drive more investment in the mall.
The ‘Transforming the City Centre Action Plan’ found 10 of the 39 shops in Hargreaves Mall were vacant.
It was first proposed to traders in February and would go before council at this month’s meeting.
The plan recommended short-term options including a “pop-up park” with synthetic turf, umbrellas and moveable seats, a design review to include a large display screen and shade, and a small-window tenancy to replace one of the toilets.
A small tenancy will also be established at the site of the Mitchell Street bus shelter, with expressions of interest already released, conceding the shelter has failed in its purpose.
The council has created more loading zones in nearby parking bays to remove delivery trucks from the mall.
A number of design studies will take place and will be implemented in the next three years.
The Hargreaves Mall “activation” budget will also be increased from $60,000 to $100,000 to allow for more events, with the council finding that the mall becomes a more attractive place to visit when public events take place, such as the Moonlight Market.
With the proposed Gov Hub to be built in the coming years, the City of Greater Bendigo hoped to create an environment similar to Bendigo Bank where there are few vacant shopfronts.
Empty shopfronts of the Bendigo CBD:
But the report acknowledged mistakes were made in the past.
“It is acknowledged that when it was redesigned around a decade ago, it missed the mark on a number of levels,” it reads.
“Community consultation on the mall identifies three common criticisms of the design – it lacks shade, colour and softness.
“These are things that can be addressed in part in the short term, with relatively low cost interventions to be trialled to create a more attractive and usable space in the central section of the mall.”
The last redesign was completed in 2008 following a CBD Plan in 2005 which aimed to build on the city’s existing heritage. Much of the ambition will be carried forward in the 2018/19 plan.
In the report to council, senior strategic planned Phil DeAraugo said other regional cities had encountered similar problems with open malls, but Bendigo had greater potential than most.
“It is worth noting that similar issues are occurring in other cities across Victoria and Australia and that there are no ‘silver bullet’ solutions that are guaranteed to work,” he wrote.
“The big advantage we have in Bendigo is that we have a great foundation to build upon, and perhaps more importantly, there is genuine interest and a willingness to get on and make things better.”
The council is also continuing discussions with Myer, which “has more floor space than it now actually needs”. It is hoped the Pall Mall facade will be improved.
Businesses pleased with extra events funding
While business owners in Hargreaves Mall remained skeptical of yet another council report into the mall, some were pleased to see more funding for events.
One business owner towards the Mitchell Street-end said anti-social issues near the bus shelter disappeared on days when the Moonlight Market was held, and they hoped to see similar events.
She said council’s engagement with businesses had improved in recent years.
“At least they’re trying to do something, rather than just leave it the way it was,” she said.
“We find business improves when the Moonlight Market is on and we’re able to stay open later.”
Another business owner believed the council was relatively powerless to stop the decline of the mall, which effectively began in 1995 with the opening of the Bendigo Marketplace. He said council was reluctant to listen to the ideas of business owners and many had given up trying.
The council’s plan agreed that it was becoming increasingly difficult for CBD businesses to compete with the Marketplace.
“Many ‘main street’ and independent stores found themselves in direct competition with almost identical national chain stores that were in a shopping environment that was considered to be more attractive to shoppers,” the plan reads.
“A slightly smaller impact was felt when the Marketplace expansion opened in 2009.
“Any further expansion of the Marketplace needs to be very carefully considered, at least until such time that population growth and the trading of the commercial core can sustain a further expansion.”
It found anti-social issues in the Bendigo CBD had been shifted around for years, starting in the library-town hall precinct, then moving to the Fun Loong area, and was now primarily based near the bus shelter.
The council hoped establishing a small shop at the bus shelter would discourage people from gathering in the area.
A plan for the whole CBD, not just Hargreaves Mall
Bendigo’s peak business body Be.Bendigo believes the CBD will see a resurgence within five years as more major projects are completed.
There are plans to relocate the Law Courts to Bendigo TAFE and establish a Gov Hub. La Trobe University is also investigating sites for a potential CBD campus with further student accommodation.
Be.Bendigo chief executive officer Dennis Bice said the council’s latest CBD plan provided some good options.
“We need to increase the diversity of businesses in the CBD and I think the plan allows this to happen,” Mr Bice said.
“It’s gone beyond a Hargreaves Mall plan and is more of a city plan.
“The development of the Mitchell Street end of the CBD, in trying to reconfigure zoning from commercial to residential, will provide more options for inner-city living which is essential as the population grows.
“I think when we sit back and have a cup of coffee in the mall in five years’ time, we’ll be amazed at the changes that have happened.”