Councillor George Flack has described malls as “dinosaur-age inventions” and suggested the much-maligned Hargreaves Mall should be reopened to traffic.
Discussing the outdated shopping strip, which has been the subject of heightened vacancy rates in recent times, Cr Flack said “across the world over the past 20 years malls have been demolished”.
“Opening up the mall to cars may prompt the lowering of anti-social behaviour that’s going on at the moment,” he said.
Councillors engaged in their first tangible public discussion on the mall at a meeting on Wednesday, which is being considered as part of the council’s ‘Transforming the City Centre Action Plan’.
Deputy mayor Jennifer Alden said: “Everyone has a theory and opinion on the mall – one thing we do know is that parking outside your favourite shop is a vestige of the past. Whatever we do (to the mall) we need a plan – this plan is a step in the right direction.”
Cr James Williams said “we don’t set the rent, we don’t own any property in the mall other than that bit in the middle” and that it was “great to see the change that is happening”.
Cr Rod Fyffe, reminiscing about times gone by, said vacancy rates were similar a number of years ago, but the public perception of empty shops wasn’t as negative back then.
“Vacancy rates were seen as giving business the opportunity to expand or new businesses the opportunity to start,” he said.
“The underlying reason why people think the mall isn’t what it was is because of the lack of people there – you need to activate it, have events.”
The ‘Transforming the City Centre Action Plan’ was 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 plan also found 10 of the 39 shops in Hargreaves Mall were vacant.
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Meanwhile, councillors voted 4:3 in favour of a multi-storey residential hotel on Bridge Street.
Debate centered around the height of the building and its appropriateness to the area.
Cr Alden voted against the proposal, noting the building height was five metres above the recommendation in the hospital precinct structure plan.
“It’s a slippery and incremental slope to allow development to go ahead outside of the guidelines. It could set a dangerous precedent and be the first of many applications that go outside the (structure plan) guidelines,” she said.
Councillors also rejected a planning application for a baptist church in Hammill Street, Kangaroo Flat.