Downward spiral or shuddering readjustment?

 

 

By KIERAN FINNANE

La Casalinga Restaurant, an icon of local dining, is now a solitary island in a sea of closed businesses along Gregory Terrace, at the southern end of Todd Mall in central Alice Springs.

Not all businesses have ceased operation – the last to go are two private Aboriginal art galleries, one moving to premises in the mall, the other to an address in Smith Street. The Smith Street/Hele Crescent area is in fact seeing something of a revival as the centre of the town goes through its shuddering readjustment.

L J Hooker is the property agent of the Gregory Terrace strip. Managing Director Doug Fraser suggested the twin evils of the European debt crisis and the high Australian dollar have impacted on tourist numbers to Central Australia and consequently on businesses geared to the tourism trade.

He said he could not comment on the “effect, if any, the number of vacancies have had on rental levels”.

As a sign of the impact of online trading, it’s worth considering that the first businesses to vacate this strip were tour booking agencies, the kind of business that would seem to be made largely redundant by e-commerce.

Meanwhile, “Bringing Business Back to Outback Australia” is the theme for a special meeting hosted by Desert Knowledge Australia Outback Business Networks this Friday. Among the four presenters is Marcus Westbury, who will discuss Renew Australia (Renew Newcastle), an innovative strategy which was used to rebuild Newcastle in 2008. Since then more than 70 new businesses and initiatives have been seeded and the town was hailed by Lonely Planet as one of the top ten cities in the world to visit in 2011.

Apparently by coincidence outgoing Alderman Murray Stewart, a native of Newcastle, suggested last week that the Town Council write to the NT Government requesting that it initiate a “Renew Alice ” strategy. He didn’t get support for his emotion but it seems that the spirit of  renewal is in the air as a Facebook group under the name “Renew Alice” (adopted without knowledge initially of the Newcastle-grown strategy) is a lively and growing forum for all sorts of ideas about the future of the town.

 

UPDATE – COMMENT, February 22, 2012: Ald Stewart, and for that matter his colleagues, seem to be forgetting that the Town Council has a renewal process in train, funded to the tune of $5 million. But despite the hand-wringing about the on-going decline of the town centre, there is no sense of urgency about its implementation.  Where is the enthusiasm for and communication of its promise – for example, a public note of congratulation and celebration of the international award won by the creative brief for Parsons Street, authored by Mike Gillam? Where are the early initiatives, such as tree planting, that could impart a real sense of renewal and determination now, when it is so keenly needed? A few small saplings have been planted in Hartley Street but without tree guards. It’s as though we are just waiting for them to be destroyed, to then throw our hands up and say it was all too hard. Then we’d be able to fill the holes in with concrete, following the trend of that has been the hallmark of this council’s urban works. – K.F. 

 

Pictured, top: Further fields (in Todd Mall) were greener for this Gregory Terrace business. Right: A vulnerable sapling in Hartley Street. Set up to fail?

 

See our report from last year about other local enthusiasm for the ‘renew’ movement.

Be Sociable, Share!

12 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Bob Durnan
    Posted March 3, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    Could somebody explain why the property rental companies aren’t allowing the rents charged on CBD premises to drop within reach of more people who have entrepreneurial ambitions and skills / services / goods to offer for sale in the centre of Alice?
    Surely it can’t be economical for them to leave all these shops shut?
    Maybe the Alice Springs News team could do an investigation to explain this seemingly self-defeating phenomenon in the behaviour of the property owners?
    Is it a problem of nobody being game to jump first, for fear of missing out on some sudden local upturn?

    View Comment
  2. Janet Brown
    Posted February 24, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    Just as the Territory ad of old says you never never know if you never never go, or in this case have a go, I support having a go. Our pioneers went out with vigour and with dreams of new beginnings. I would like to believe that we still can have that pioneering spirit. Offering hope and opportunity. I offer no excuses in believing in having a go. If we stop believing in a future what else is there. Regret is not an option.

    View Comment
  3. Domenico Pecorari
    Posted February 24, 2012 at 11:00 am

    Oh Janet, why do you make it so difficult to conduct any meaningful dialogue?
    To state it as clearly as I can, I attend talkfests, even those where I believe I am wasting my time, to inform myself and, at times, am swayed to change my position on issues, depending upon the information presented. Also, I would never presume to comment upon anyone’s intelligence, but I do believe that many would share my opinion that AZRI will be too expensive, too socially isolated and too far from the town’s services and amenities. I guess only time will tell who’s right on this one, Janet, but I’m afraid that, by that time, it may be too late to turn the town’s fortunes around.

    View Comment
  4. Janet Brown
    Posted February 24, 2012 at 10:05 am

    Well said Dom. If you view Kilgariff as a stupid idea what was your desire to attend and participate if not to influence the move from affordable to out of reach. Within the suburb comes bus travel as included in the plan. To reduce vehicle traffic. Your belief that low income people do not have vehicles or enough intelligence to get from A to B is disrespectful. I believe that those people you are comfortable dictating to and telling them what you think is best for them are no happy with that. Those people want a roof over their heads and that of their children. Workers wanting affordable rentals that don’t impact almost 100% of one wage. Please keep your superior attitude out of opportunities for those who see opportunity and let them decide what they need and require.

    View Comment
  5. Domenico Pecorari
    Posted February 24, 2012 at 8:56 am

    Oh, how I wish it was true, Janet, that me “and my lot” had the powers of persuasion you believe we have, or any power at all. I am not anti-development, as you like to paint me, but I am definitely “anti-stupid-development”, as I believe the AZRI proposal to be. The outcome of the Enquiry-By-Design process you refer to, that is, that the new subdivision would only succeed if it was aimed at the upper end of the housing market, did not surprise me, as I’d already calculated that there was no way such a far-flung suburb could cater to the needs of low income social groups and first home buyers. What you fail to appreciate in your arguments, Janet, is that “affordability” is much more than a cheap house, but involves the many facets of one’s “lifestyle”, the on-going costs. As such, I believe AZRI will only ever be practical for the well-to-do in our town: the 2 and 3-car families with an income sufficient to sustain rising fuel costs, for example. Sensible urban design (or re-design, for that matter) is not rocket science, Janet. You just have to be able to imagine yourself in the position of the people you purport to be trying to help. If I was a low income person/family, I’d want a low-maintenance home, within easy walking or riding distance from the town centre’s community facilities and employment opportunities, as well as the social spaces where I could meet supportive friends who share a low-cost lifestyle. For someone in such a situation, an isolated pocket of suburbia, with all its “add-on-costs”, would never do. A little more analysis, Janet, is what is needed now to get our town out of its self induced malaise, and a lot less of the dogmatic blind faith that underpin your so called “solutions”.

    View Comment
  6. Posted February 24, 2012 at 5:00 am

    I write in response to Janet Brown’s comments of February 23.
    I participated in the Kilgariff Enquiry by Design forum staged by the NT Government in April 2011, and note the considerable commentary regarding both the design outcomes of this process and the affordability of any housing to be developed.
    In May 2011 I wrote a letter to the editor of the Centralian Advocate, noting our concern that the detailed considerations of the ‘design’ teams be properly represented – certainly there was insufficient media attention given to the means by which affordable and community housing could be provided – NT Shelter acknowledges the pressing need for these. The following is taken from that letter:
    “Many cogent concerns were raised regarding the development of Kilgariff, including the appropriateness of developing to the south of the Gap (away from shops, services and amenity), concerns with flooding, and the need for a more holistic planning exercise for the whole of Alice Springs; this should include for the region to the south of the Gap.
    “Representations that vacant lots will sell for a minimum of $280,000 to the home owner do not fairly represent the scenario modelling, and that this hypothetical figure was for a 800sqm block developed by a private developer. Using the same modelling a 450sqm block would cost $156,000, however there are other ways of developing residential land to lessen these prices and these were touched on. Lot size clearly relates directly to affordability – regardless of whether the government’s land corporation, an affordable housing company or private developers is to develop land.
    “NT Shelter is also concerned that the means through which affordable housing can be delivered are given proper consideration with Kilgariff and other residential developments planned for Alice Springs. Indeed up to 25% affordable and social housing was proposed by one of the Kilgariff Enquiry by Design teams – however the delivery of affordable housing is not limited to the development of public housing stock by Territory Housing, the balloting of land by the Department of Lands and Planning, or through first home buyer schemes.
    “There are many other means through which social and affordable housing can be delivered that will better suit prospective home owners and renters and that will see an ongoing affordability beyond the original purchaser.
    It is imperative that the range of options be considered in all future residential developments, especially when crown land, a social asset, is being developed.”
    [ED – Google the extensive coverage by the Alice Springs News Online of the Kilgariff development, including the Enquiry by Design forum.]

    View Comment
  7. Hal Duell
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 4:20 pm

    Why was Kilgariff chosen before all other potential development sites?
    Because Native Title had been extinguished on what was the old AZRI block. There are no bickering families stopping the imminent roll out of houses out there.
    I fully agree that we need to start growing some of our own food here in the Centre, but to limit the possible farm area to what is now the fast developing suburb of Kilgariff is too retrospective. It also smacks of sour grapes.
    There are other sites that can be developed to produce food. Isn’t something happening out at Rocky Hill, part of the Hayes family holdings?
    And then who will do the gardening? That enterprise is always labour intensive. Perhaps if we promote the community release scheme involving refugees on bridging visas a willing labour pool will appear on our doorstep.

    View Comment
  8. Janet Brown
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    Trevor you are right about the short sighted planning but one word is wrong, planning! We have no town plan but that is not quite right the last one in the early 80s which I have a copy has been shelved. So we have no town plan. Nothing to assist investors or business to see a real future in our town. And yes we are a great place to promote food production. There is land on mass with water to do this around Alice and land for housing. We can have balance here. We not only have the potential we have opportunity. Now all that is missing is real leaders in government.

    View Comment
  9. Trevor Shiell
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 11:33 am

    The short-sighted planning evident in this town is deplorable. The Federal Government has just received a report from the Professional Planners Association on national food security and foreign ownership of agricultural land. It found that five times more agricultural land was being lost to urban sprawl than to foreign ownership. Food security will become a national issue. So what do we do? At AZRI – Kilgariff we cover what should be a prime facility and national showcase for producing more food with “low cost” housing and bow down to the real estate industry. Don’t get over-excited when you are buying Italian tomatoes, rice from Laos and beef from Africa, and sugar from China because we were too short-sighted in our planning to look into the future. It’s no co incidence that big companies (BHP Billiton) are buying into fertilizer production all over the world to meet the need for increased food production, wile we cover a huge asset that should be productive with houses. The planners must have had dust in their eyes, or approaching an election, where pollies were only looking for votes from unthinking people.
    That whole area should have been a brand new tourist precinct showing what can be down with arid land, starting with a Mt Isa style tourist display area at the welcome rock South of town. Tourists won’t come here to see a replica of Adelaide’s Northern suburbs.

    View Comment
  10. Saffron Russell
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 10:22 am

    Maybe commerical rent prices should start to come down? It seems regardless of the state of the town rents continue to go up. Are landlords really that greedy they would rather an empty building than reduce the rent prices? Businesses just cannot afford the overheads in times like this. We are paying the same rents as if we were in downtown Melbourne, something needs to be done before there are no shops open at all!

    View Comment
  11. Janet Brown
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 9:00 am

    What, Dom, you move subjects and charge direction. What is the point of the meetings, pie in sky talks, nothing ever comes from them and if anything does, as with Kilgariff, you and your lot of progress stoppers move the ideas to ensure the costs are so expensive that working families cannot get in.
    And your movement with the support of some current elected members in council to stop Territitory Housing getting in there. I was part of the first planning meeting. We were searching for affordable land for low income and working families to enjoy home ownership. And what did you deliberately do, you ensured that land was no longer available to our working families. That along with massive costs for home purchase and rents, most of those working families have moved to the coast.
    I am sick of the blame game on businesses not providing good customer service. Businesses need good staff [but lack of] affordable housing or rents leave business with no option but to employ who applies.
    How dare you write that you have concerns for the decline in our town when you have been in the front line ensuring this decline happened.

    View Comment
  12. Domenico Pecorari
    Posted February 22, 2012 at 11:09 am

    These talkfests are great and could bear results, if only our community “decision-makers” would attend and learn by them. I’ll be looking over the audience for our mayor, aldermen / councilors, Alice Springs Town Council officers, politicians from all parties and members of the Planning Authority. Judging on their past attendance records, however, I won’t be holding my breath.

    View Comment

Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *

*
*