Mall to Main: 10 years on

STAWELL - This year marks a decade since the Main Street, formerly the Gold Reef Mall, formerly the Main Street was reopened to traffic.

In the months leading up to April 4, 2004 when the first vehicles in a quarter of a century began travelling the new route the community was divided over whether the transformation should take place.

It did, and the success of whether it has brought more people into the CBD and associated businesses remains a question that could just as easily be debated today as it was then.

Northern Grampians Shire Council Mayor, Cr Kevin Erwin and chief executive officer Justine Linley believe that without a doubt it has benefited the town and this was evident in the immediate years that followed the redevelopment.

A report by Jodie Senior released in 2005 appeared to support that view with the number of vacant Main Street premises (15) prior to opening it to traffic in 2004, falling sharply to just a couple within the next couple of years.

Ms Linley said vacancy times on the whole remain short to this day, with the exception of some that have become long term.

"Just in those couple of years after the Main Street re-opened there was a dramatic turnaround, occupancy rates were down in the 90s and early two thousands but that has changed," she said.

"I think when you consider the retail environment of today what we have now is really good.

"The dollars invested by property owners in refurbishing and reinventing the retail and commercial spaces and properties in Main Street has been substantial."

Ms Linley cites the fact that Fishers IGA undertook a major expansion, Sportspower expanded, Inika moved into a very rundown building and renovated, Lillie's and Lattes and Hammer and Gad

expanded and renovated, Gifted Wombat renovated, Neilly's renovated, Poseidon Fish shop invested, Mokepilly Cafe invested and renovated as evidence of the confidence business owners have in the Main Street precinct.

"This equates to more than $1 million of private sector investment in retail renewal in Main Street alone over the past 10 years," she said.

As of January 2014 there were 13 commercial and retail vacant shop fronts, but according to council that varies frequently, with just seven vacant premises as recently as July 2013.

At the turn of the century the main argument to support the reversion to a traffic street was the declining trade in the mall.

Those opposing the re-opening cited poor service and high prices as the reason for this.

Surveys were sent to ratepayers, with 35.8 percent of the surveys completed and returned and 54 percent of those in favour of retaining and enhancing the mall.

At a council meeting in February 2003 it was passed to open the Gold Reef Mall to two-way traffic with measures to ensure it was pedestrian friendly and created a busy environment.

In light of the 50/50 split on whether it should proceed Ms Linley believes it was a 'courageous' decision for council to take and one that has proven to be in the best interests of the town.

Mayor, Cr Erwin is the only current councillor who was serving at the time and remembers the controversy well.

"It was a nice enough mall but people raised issues to do with safety, especially at night, and people didn't want to go up there anymore," he said.

Cr Erwin said the issue was probably the most contentious in the town's history.

He said with the exception of their no longer being a children's playground their isn't any drawbacks to the absence of the mall.

"We are doing pretty well in what is a tough retail time, the Main Street is much more vibrant, and you only have to look up there to see so much more activity," he said.

Ms Linley said the community can still play its part in the future development of the city centre.

"Opening the mall up to traffic was only ever going to be the start and we are working on other projects to strengthen the vitality of the Main Street," she said.

Ms Linley said the construction of the roof above the walkway at 109 Main Street was an example of a recent improvement that enhanced access.

She has encouraged anyone with ideas on how to improve it further to contact council.

"We really welcome and value that input and feedback from the community about what we should do because it is their Main Street," Ms Linley said.

● Stawell businesses will have their say on whether the reversion to traffic in the Main Street has been a success in the next article on the Mall to be published in the Stawell Times-News.

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