Todd Mall: Are we finally getting it right?

COMMENT by ALEX NELSON

 

With the deconstruction of the north Todd Mall well underway, it’s worth taking a look at the opposite end of the historical spectrum when there was considerable debate over the impending full mall’s construction in the mid 1980s.
Perhaps most telling is the article “Develop or die: it’s our choice” published in the Centralian Advocate, 18 July, 1986, from which I quote the following extracts: “Alice Springs must develop or die, according to one of the town’s leading architects, Mr. Les Platt.
“Mr Platt is the architect of the $16 million Ford Plaza development [now the Alice Plaza].”
Platt stated that he “believes Alice Springs will not develop while existing planning regulations restrict building height and while it is seen as a necessity to preserve the town’s older buildings at all costs.
“I’d be the first one to protest if a building like the old court house was going to be demolished. But most places around Alice Springs were gerry-built after World War II. When we pulled down the old Stuart Arms Hotel it was full of blue asbestos and was a real fire risk”.
(This last comment is hugely ironic in light of Platt’s leading role in the bungled upgrading of the Alice Springs Hospital over a decade ago – see the Alice Springs News, February 23, 2005; and March 2, 2005 – where fire safety, amongst other things, was severely compromised).
The article continued: “Projects worth some $40 million are currently underway in Alice Springs, Mr. Platt said.
“These projects include the Ford Plaza, the new Telford complex and the Woolworths Building [Alice Plaza, Diplomat Motel, and Yeperenye Shopping Centre, respectively].
“According to Mr. Platt it is not accurate to say that tourists want to see Alice Springs ‘as it was’.
“This is supposed to be a tourist town and yet it is obvious that it just isn’t geared to tourism’, he said.
“I get embarrassed walking around town on the weekends. There is nowhere for people to go and nothing for them to do.
“There is such beautiful country around Alice Springs and people think tourists want to come back to a haven in the evenings.
“But I don’t agree. People should be offered plenty of entertainment and facilities.”
“He says the new full mall for Todd Street and the Ford Plaza will be an asset for tourism in Alice Springs”.
Well, how’s that for a load of irony! It’s relevant to note that Les Platt subsequently became an active and prominent member of the Alice Springs Branch of the Country Liberal Party.
Another very prominent local CLP identity involved in the construction of Todd Mall was (then) Alderman Bob Kennedy, who chaired the Alice town council’s Todd Mall Committee overseeing the project. I was also informed many years ago that Kennedy was instrumental in negotiations with Woolworths to relocate from the north end of Todd Street to its present site in the Yeperenye Shopping Centre.
Woolworths initially had publicly stated it had no intention of moving from Todd Street (the site now occupied by the Alice Springs Cinema complex). In March 1985 it was revealed that the Aboriginal Development Commission, which owned a substantial parcel of land between Hartley and Bath streets, had been approached by a “development organisation” with a “confidential proposal for development of the land”.
This development organisation was known as “the Centralian Aboriginal Enterprise (Aboriginal Corporation)” – “Members of the corporation include the Tangentyere Council, Pitjantjatjara Council, Central Land Council and Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association” – the precursor of the Aboriginal investment business Centrecorp (“Prime site mystery bid”, Centralian Advocate, March 29, 1985).
The article concluded: “Any development was expected to be a development owned and operated by the Aboriginal organisations”.
“Woolworths NT-SA property development manager, Mr. Jim Meirs, said in Adelaide that Woolworths was not involved in any development in Alice Springs.
“He said the company had not approached anyone in regard to acquiring land or had had negotiations with any landowners in Alice Springs”.
The subsequent relocation of Woolworths away from Todd Street/Mall proved to be an “own goal” as far as the future economic viability of the north end of the mall was concerned – it was, however, a vital lynchpin in the success of the Yeperenye Shopping Centre which is owned by Centrecorp, for which Bob Kennedy worked from at least as early as 1989 until retiring just last year. Woolworths re-opened at Yeperenye in October 1987, the same month the full Todd Mall was officially opened.
Almost simultaneously when news first broke about a “confidential proposal” to develop ADC property between Hartley and Bath streets there was a major announcement for plans to re-develop property on the corner of Parsons Street and Todd Mall (at that time a semi-mall with a one-way traffic lane).
“Developers plan to demolish the Stuart Arms Hotel and replace it with an $8 million two-storey shopping complex.
“The shopping centre will include specialty shops, executive offices, two bars, elevators and Alice Springs’ first escalators.
“The developers are DKB Investments – controlled by the Ford family, who own the Ford Resort.
“Director of DKB Investments, Mr. Kim Ford, said: ‘The new shopping centre will definitely bring people back to Todd Mall'” ($8 Mill. Shops Centre Planned”, Centralian Advocate, April 10, 1985). It’s interesting to note that the initial cost of $8 million for the proposed Ford Plaza had doubled by the following year when construction was underway.
The Ford Plaza was officially opened on October 15, 1987, the day following the official opening of the full Todd Mall. The Yeperenye Shopping Centre was officially opened the following week, on October 20.
The concluding line in a story following the opening of Yeperenye proved remarkably prescient: “It could turn out to be a battle for one-stop shopping in the town between the new Yeperenye complex and the Ford Plaza” (“Fat Cat draws kids at complex opening”, Centralian Advocate, October 23, 1987).
The real irony in all this is that much of the fault for the demise of the north end of Todd Mall clearly lies with Les Platt’s monstrous architectural creation, the Alice Plaza.
In its quarter-century history the Alice Plaza has undergone four major internal refits, while just over a decade ago $5 million was spent on a partial re-opening of the north end of Todd Mall and the demolition of Turner Arcade and the Shell Todd service station to make way for more car-parking – all in what were apparently vain attempts to attract more shoppers to the north end of Todd Mall.
Moreover, the Alice Plaza has been subsidised by the NT Government for its entire existence in the form of rent to pay for occupation of the upper level of that building (how many remember the Spencer and Gillen Museum that first took up so much space on the second floor?)
The Alice Plaza has demonstrated all along it is uneconomic as a stand-alone commercial entity without government aid; and it is largely responsible for the failure of the north end of the Todd Mall which has (and is continuing to) cost us millions of taxpayers’ dollars.
On the basis of this scandalous record, there is no reason to believe the current partial demolition of Todd Mall allowing it to be re-opened to traffic is going to work any better than anything that has been tried previously.
There really should be a commission of inquiry held into this whole sorry saga.

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7 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. Diane
    Posted February 1, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    I find it quite interesting that business owners are crying out for support from government to overcome the dearth of new regulations, changes etc that impact on all businesses.

    Rather than re-opening the mall (which I’m sure will help), the government at what ever level could have saved themselves a heap of our money, if they had simply found a way for the public servants and not for profit employees parking in retail shopping areas.

    Kmart is a nightmare with the CAAC cars, a visit to Beaute on the Mall had to be cancelled, again, because of the CAAC cars – lunch was had at home, rather than a cafe in the mall because of the private cars parked behind Sporties – and a trip to bank today – again, a quick whip into the Plaza shows a lack of customers but the car park is full.

    Perhaps it is time for the public servants and others to remember that business is what supports their endeavours – not the other way around.

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  2. Posted January 26, 2013 at 8:13 am

    The lack of response from the public during the consultation phase on the proposed partial re-opening of Todd Mall is that very few people have confidence in the integrity of the process. It’s generally a formality – the decision to proceed is almost always a fait accompli.
    Most people know this and cannot be bothered to waste their time, and also many (especially in business) don’t wish to draw undue attention to themselves from the mandarins of bureaucracy as it’s not good for their business prospects in the long run.
    A good example of what I’m saying is demonstrated by the town council’s persistence on the issue of the sale of public parks; this was a matter first raised over a decade ago but placed on the back-burner after overwhelming public opposition.
    But that’s exactly where the matter has resided – on the back-burner until last year, where once again it’s been brought forward onto the council’s agenda.
    Members of the public simply get tired of banging their heads against brick walls, as in the end everyone knows what the final result ultimately will be.

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  3. Richard Bentley
    Posted January 25, 2013 at 8:18 pm

    When it was reported 12 months or more ago that “a handful of businesses” had responded to a survey seeking opinion on the consultants proposal to open the mall to traffic where were the critics then? We have just had a council election – no mention of it. Your observations may be right Alex but it is a bit late now.

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  4. Posted January 23, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    Would Gino Babino mind providing some details of his criticism to support his claim of “biased reporting”? For example, are any of the facts in my story disputed, or is there any information that contradicts or disproves what I say?
    I didn’t mention in my story the fact that there were two studies made of the Alice Springs town centre, one in 1984 and another in 1985. One of these was by the Alice Springs Town Council, the other by the Northern Territory Government.
    Both reports were critical of the fact at the time that there had been no progress on construction of the full mall in Todd Street, which had been under discussion for years.
    So we had two studies of the town’s CBD in two years, both funded by ratepayers and taxpayers.
    Subsequently the full mall was constructed in Todd Street – funded by ratepayers and taxpayers.
    In subsequent years there have been further studies and consultations about the mall – funded by ratepayers and taxpayers – and eventually alteration of the mall to permit limited traffic access and increased car parking at the mall’s north end – again funded by ratepayers and taxpayers. Now, following further studies and consultation by the Alice Springs Town Council and the NT Government – funded by ratepayers and taxpayers – we now see slightly over half the mall being ripped up and replaced with a street to permit vehicle access – again funded by ratepayers and taxpayers. Which all adds up to several millions of dollars lining the pockets and stuffing the bank accounts of all those lucky recipients who are chosen by the town council or the NT Government to do all these studies, consultancies, design work and construction.
    Where is the true accountability in all of this?

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  5. Gino Babino
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 12:30 am

    That would be the worst case of biased “reporting” I’ve read in years.

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  6. Hal Duell
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 3:34 am

    There are two factors dictating the character of the northern half of the Todd Mall. One is the faceless and monolithic nature of that paragon of poor urban planning, the Alice Plaza. The other is the take-away bottle shop attached to the Todd Tavern.
    Until those two are tackled, we may as well cut all the trees down and run a highway through it.

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  7. Russell Guy
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    Alex, that tall eucalypt in your first mall story used to come up to the balcony where I had a room at the Stuart Arms Hotel.
    It’s grown much taller, but I still give it a pat in remembrance of those days in the early eighties when Todd Street had more frontier character.
    Whatever the re-development of the Mall, I can’t see anything improving while the Chief Minister and crew go down the youth curfew road, rather than attack one of the culprits responsible for social disorder and that, as many of us who have worked on the ground for decades know, is the current laws in relation to alcohol supply.
    Young people with any cognisance view the Chief Minister’s generation, freely consuming booze while making laws against the night, as hypocrisy.
    The term “juvenile adults” is more salient here than “juvenile delinquents”.
    Let’s have some leadership, not this naive contempt for future leaders of our country marching on into an imploding Groundhog Day.
    The UK government is trying to head off the prophecies of Stanley Kubrick’s “Clockwork Orange” with a floor price, while the NT government dismantles effective alcohol supply restrictions.
    Alex Nelson’s call for a commission of enquiry into the Mall mish-mash is a sign that there are drunken sailors still at the helm of the ship of state. Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum! Come on now, ‘fess up, me hearties!

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