LANGTREE Mall trader Ryan Hammerton has launched a push to re-open the beleaguered CBD retail precinct to traffic.
More than 30 years after the block between Eighth and Ninth Streets became a pedestrian only area, he wants cars back as part of a drive to return vitality to the area.
Mr Hammerton says more than a third of retail space in the mall is now vacant – a statistic only made worse by COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns.
“There was not an empty shop three or four years ago. Presently the Mall has I think 22 vacancies with a couple more pending. This represents over 35 per cent and this is not typical of the rest of the precinct.
“The pandemic has only exaggerated the problem,” he said after the release of concept drawings this week.
Under his plan, much of the mall’s existing infrastructure and most trees would be retained with one-way traffic entering from Eighth Street. More than 40 angle parking bays would be created.
And while he says there has been positive reaction from retailers and residents “multiple attempts to engage council over the concept have been met with general apathy”.
“Any development or improvement to the Mall is conspicuously absent from the Mildura CBD 2019 – 2035 Plan. The plan was adopted by current sitting councillors despite this oversight,” he said.
Mr Hammerton said the downside of mall shop vacancies “goes to the heart of health and vitality of the city”.
“It leaves a sour taste as the city is actually quite buoyant. But we currently have so much of this key hub vacant and missing activity,” he said.
He says rent was not to blame for retailers deserting Langtree Mall.
“Square metre rates have dropped substantially as landlords have tried to secure or keep tenants. Per square metre rates (certainly over the past 12 months) are somewhat aligned with prices outside the Mall.
“It’s not the pandemic. Or the fires. Or the blue green algae. Or the GFC. It’s not necessarily online shopping. It’s taken years to lead to one conclusion: access and proximate parking.”
Mr Hammerton said changes proposed would come without a hefty price tag. They could also be achieved without a costly and drawn-out consultation process.
He wants the initial focus to be on opening the mall to traffic and bringing people back to the CBD’s jewel.
“The plan is to again have movement of people, improving access to stores … many that are now vacant,” he said.