The solution to the Fitzroy Street problem is GO LOCAL. It will never return to its once dominant profile as a night-time visitor destination. The mix of tenancies to be curated must appeal to local people.
On Sunday, August 2, in the second of Progressive Port Phillip's Talking Shop sessions, Rhonda Small, Ann Byrne and Bill Garner talked with three people deeply committed to proposals to reinvent Fitzroy Street.
Peter McEwan, a former urban planner, is on the board of the Pride Centre; James Brearley is one of the architects of the Pride Centre with his practice located in Fitzroy Street; Renan Goksin is food and music entrepreneur with hands-on experience of the challenges of running a business in the street.
There was a remarkable degree of agreement on what immediately needs to be done.
- Minor modifications to the streetscape will not do. Fitzroy Street needs a big bold approach that recognises fundamental changes in the demography of the suburb.
- Council should in the 2020-21 budget revisit its deferral of the $74,000 stake in the Renew Australia project. The project would work with the local community and property owners to take otherwise empty shops and commercial buildings and make them available to incubate short term use by artists, creative projects and community initiatives.The City of Port Phillip initially agreed to pay half the annual cost ($74,000) in the expectation that the State Govt would meet the other half. When the Government rejected the proposal Council deferred its half-share. However, the situation has changed. The Fitzroy Street Business Association (FSBA) is now offering to pay half the cost if Council will contribute the other half. This would fit well with the community building opportunity created by the COVID economic crisis and would position Fitzroy Street to emerge strongly from the depression. For the first time, property owners themselves are on board with the Renew initiative.
- To build on the momentum of the Renew project, the FSBA is prepared to fund the tenancy curation andcoordinated letting of the street. The approximate cost of professional services for this is $124,000. This would apply a shopping mall model of management by bringing all vacant tenancies under a single agent. This would enable a dynamic mix of retail, creative, and co-worker spaces. The retail strategy would be to attract the best retailers from across Melbourne and the State. FSBA has already sought EOIs from a number of agents. Council might have a role in this reinvention by filling in the gaps by itself leasing some of the vacant shops and sub-letting them in creative ways.
- The solution to the Fitzroy Street problem is GO LOCAL. It will never return to its once dominant profile as a night-time visitor destination. The mix of tenancies to be curated must appeal to local people. That requires shops that serve residents. International experience shows that vibrant local communities attract visitors.
- The object of all these approaches is to INCREASE ACTIVITY on the street. The main problem on Fitzroy Street is the perception of safety. This is exacerbated by the prevailing emptiness which accentuates the presence of rough sleepers, beggars and drug users. St Kilda traditionally allows space for under-privileged people and its 'honeypot' of welfare services means this will continue to be the case (as it should be).
- The Pride Centre is not a one-stop solution to the problems of Fitzroy Street and should not be expected to be. The perception of safety will be a major concern, especially from those visitors to the Centre who know it only by its reputation. It is therefore essential that the Centre be supported by Council investment in making the street more active generally.
- The re-invention must involve both sides of the street below Grey Street. While Fitzroy Street is a grand boulevard leading to and from the sea, its great width is a problem that must be addressed in the curation. Both sides must be looked at together.
- The power of one. We know that lone entrepreneurs can make a huge difference by their committed seeding of new establishments. Donlevy Fitzpatrick at The George, the Van Haandels and the Ryans at The Prince, and Renan Goksin with Claypots at the Village Belle are cases in point. Such spirits must be encouraged.
- As previous attempts to revive Fitzroy Street have failed so spectacularly, there may be nervousness on the part of Council to support further schemes. But a successful re-invention of the street would be a very bright feather in the cap of all Port Phillip councillors. Candidates for Lake Ward especially could expect to be rewarded if they embrace these ideas. But to win that approval, they will have to get on board.
The Talking Shop is an occasional online forum bringing together a few people to discuss topics of interest to Port Phillip residents. It is curated by Rhonda Small and Bill Garner