Transitioning parts of the central business district to residential dwellings could help revitalise the ailing precinct, according to the region’s leading business group.
As part of its state election wish list, Be.Bendigo suggested changing existing commercial areas into residential could form part of a broader solution for the area.
Be.Bendigo chair Marika McMahon said the outer edges of the CBD, for example in Queen and Hargreaves Street, could be used as residential to help build a critical mass in the centre of town, which would have flow on effects for retail and local business.
“Turning the CBD into a living and not just a working or shopping area will be the solution,” she said.
City of Greater Bendigo public spaces and place making coordinator Wonona Fuzzard said despite the city centre being a commercial zone, residential use was permitted.
“If people wanted to do it they can do it now. They may not realise it’s permissible, it’s just whether the market is ready, which I don’t think it is at the moment, but it’s not far off,” she said.
“The key to revitalising a city centre is people.”
The CBD has a number of high-end apartment blocks, which some real estate agents don’t consider affordable.
Ms Fuzzard said the council is currently reviewing its city centre plan, which was last updated in 2005.
“We’re looking at what development has been approved, what's holding back development, what's needed,” she said.
The COGB hopes to have a draft version of a new city centre plan to put before councillors in early 2019.
Ms McMahon said the business group was also supportive of a push to develop student accommodation in central Bendigo.
The former Gillies Pie Factory on Garsed Street was a site earmarked by the COGB in January as a potential solution to increased demand for off-campus student accommodation in central Bendigo.
Be.Bendigo also championed new law courts and the Gov Hub project as a means of increasing foot traffic in the city centre, while also promoting the extension of the CBD to include the hospital precinct.
Bendigo TAFE’s City Campus has been identified as the preferred site for the new law courts.
Court Services Victoria is in negotiations to use a portion of the McCrae Street campus for a 10 courtroom facility by mid-2022, complete with mediation suites, interview rooms and safe waiting areas.
Bendigo and Weribee were allocated a share of $20 million for acquiring land for new courts as part of the most recent state budget.
Ms McMahon, a lawyer of 25 years, said the historic existing law courts were beginning to show signs of wear and tear.
“It needs to be larger, that’s for sure. At the moment we've got cases heard in Melbourne that if the facilities were here they'd be heard in Bendigo, which again brings more people into central areas,” she said.
The state government announced plans for a $90 million Gov Hub in May, which will house 1000 workers including council staff, public sector workers across various state government departments and will act as a one-stop-shop for people needing state or local government services or advice.
The City of Greater Bendigo’s Jaara building, Mundy Place, St Andrews Avenue building and the main Lyttleton Terrace office have been identified as sites that may need to be demolished and the land sold to progress the development.