By NOEL MURPHY
GEELONG’S city centre: is it a work in progress or on the cusp of disaster?
With rates rising, property values falling, ongoing traffic and parking issues and competition elsewhere, the outlook unsurprisingly appears negative to some stakeholders.
A welter of For Lease signs in store windows across the central city attests to as much, while a $65 million shopping centre expansion under way at Waurn Ponds threatens more competition when completed next year.
But with greater Geelong’s population burgeoning and new retail options springing up in response to demand in growth precincts as the city’s commercial landscape changes, the city centre’s retail aspect is shrinking.
City real estate agent and commercial property specialist Bob Gartland said new property uses were emerging, such as residential developments and an influx of service providers.
He believed their expansion would reduce the amount of available retail space to make the city area more attractive to investors.
“The city is organic and it’s in transition,” Mr Gartland said.
“The CBD, and in particular the retail precinct, is too large, covering too big an area. A number of things need to happen to reduce the size of the CBD.
“The whole commercial landscape in Geelong has changed with urban growth, urban sprawl, decentralisation and the retail area is simply too large. When you reduce its size those that remain will become more viable.”
But others observers, such as former mayoral candidate and real estate agent Greg McDonald, argue the city area needs prompt action to safeguard the prospects of existing businesses.
Mr McDonald said the city had lease fees as low as 25 per cent of Geelong West’s Pakington St but tenants were continuing to shun the area.
The city’s chronic parking, traffic and truck issues remained unaddressed, which continued driving away shoppers, he said, while council’ new seven per cent rate hike on business properties would further damage the chances of beleaguered traders surviving.
“They have to do something now, next year will be too late,” Mr McDonald said.
“There’s not currently a level playing field for small business across Geelong.”
Mr McDonald said removing parking meters and truck traffic from the city centre were the first steps to its revitalisation.
“Parking meters are only in the CBD, which people avoid because they don’t want a ticket, and trucks are constantly thundering past.
“These are crucial issues but they don’t apply in, say, Belmont or Pako or East Geelong’s Garden St or at Waurn Ponds.’’
Mr McDonald feared that the doubling in size of Waurn Ponds Shopping Centre would stop shoppers visiting central Geelong’s shops.
“Once it’s built in 12 months’ time there will be no need for anyone south of the Barwon to cross the river again and why would they?”