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CBD ‘can be renewed’

Thursday, 12th May, 2016

There may be a solution to fill the empty shops along Oxide and Argent streets, but it counts on the willingness of building owners to get involved. There may be a solution to fill the empty shops along Oxide and Argent streets, but it counts on the willingness of building owners to get involved.

By Erica Visser

The man behind a successful scheme that filled empty shops in Newcastle’s CBD is confident it could do the same for Broken Hill.

Christopher Saunders is the general manager of Renew Newcastle, a non-profit organisation which was established to find short to medium term uses for vacant or disused buildings in the coastal city.

The notion relies on the willingness of the owners to lease them for little or no rent. 

Mr Saunders said that, predictably, building owners were initially reluctant to get involved, a fact confirmed by Regional Development Australia (RDA) Far West CEO, Michael Williams.

Mr Williams has been working to contact the owners of the boarded-up buildings in Argent, Oxide and Patton streets in the hope of emulating the success of Renew Newcastle in the Silver City.

RDA Far West was yet to get in touch with the organisation, but Mr Saunders told BDT the idea had merit.

But the challenge lay in convincing owners of the benefits including maintenance, increased foot traffic and the potential for a short lease to turn into a permanent one.

“Business owners are reluctant everywhere; they see it as a charity,” Mr Saunders said.

“The thing is, it will bring people to your building, but you have to wait.” 

Mr Saunders gave a presentation on the benefits of the program in Kalgoorlie last week, but said the project could be particularly appropriate for Broken Hill.

“It is arguably a better fit there because of the creative types.” 

Mr Williams said there were many locals keen to sell their craft or artwork, but many were scared to take the financial risk in signing a long term lease and fitting out a shop.

The “pop-up shop” concept could prove a low-risk option for people wanting to start out, he said.

“I had a bit of a drive around town and there were dozens of empty shops, which is really scary.

“It would be great to get people into these to really revive the CBD, particularly in Oxide Street where they are scattered everywhere.

“It can provide an outlet for people sitting at home saying, ‘I’ve got a really cool concept but I’m not ready to quit my day job and fund it’.

“If it turns out to be viable, they may very well be the people that go on to take up the lease for the long term.”

But Mr Williams said the building owners he had spoken with were yet to see the scheme as an opportunity.

“They see it as a charity, but your empty shop’s sitting there costing you money every day.”

Under the scheme, the person who takes on a lease will be required to pay their own insurance, utility costs and must move out within 30 days if an opportunity to lease it for the long-term arises.

Mr Saunders said he would welcome discussions with local stakeholders on the proposed project and was willing to visit Broken Hill to explain its merits.

* Interested building owners may contact RDA Far West to discuss the proposal and more information is available at http://renewnewcastle.org/

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