Ipswich City Council has made a decision on the retail precinct of the Nicholas Street redevelopment which will benefit the community for years to come.
Interim Administrator Greg Chemello spelled out the reasons behind this decision at the last council meeting of the year and his final one sitting alongside the Interim Management Committee.
There has been some community commentary this week about the redevelopment, which includes council responding to business interests in establishing new stores, restaurants, cafés, entertainment areas, a cinema complex and an indoor go kart track.
“This is the last piece of the CBD, the last material decision that council can make, the final piece of that puzzle of the CBD, and many businesses are keen to be part of the action” he said.
“In essence, the council and the Ipswich community were put in a position where we had no choice. A decade ago council acquired, for whatever reasons, a number of properties in the CBD. We have inherited that situation.
“There has been much talk in the media, social media, within council and within community and business organisations about this. But for me, any debate about whether council should own these CBD properties or not is immaterial. The simple reality is that it does, and we needed to work out the best thing to do.
“We engaged a significant number of experts in the retail, commercial and entertainment development fields to advise council on what to do. Their professional advice – combined with “market sounding” with a number of companies across the property development and investment sectors – has led us to this pathway forward.”
Mr Chemello said council would spend $43.6 million on the retail, commercial, and entertainment buildings that it owns in Brisbane Street, Bell Street and Nicholas Street with a “redevelop, refurbish, lease and sell” strategy.
“The market advice from potential investors clearly indicated they are not greatly interested in acquiring these assets at this point in time, unless council virtually gives them away,” he said.
“And even then, there would be no certainty for the Ipswich community that any new owner(s) would undertake redevelopment or marketing activity.
“So council needs to retain these redeveloped and functioning buildings for a maybe a year or two before disposing them. Once the precinct is humming again, property investors’ interest will spike.
“A future council can of course form a different view, but in my view these buildings are not assets that council should hold in the long term.
“Our only other choice was to do nothing and leave the buildings as they are, but that is not really a choice for the community.”
Mr Chemello said future councils and the Ipswich community would benefit in the long run.
“Council’s marketing and leasing advisors are well down track with potential tenants and business operators, and the next mayor will have the joy of announcing a number of commitments by new businesses wanting to set up in Ipswich Central,” he said.
“The retail redevelopment is being driven by business interest in setting up in the Ipswich CBD.
”Negotiations are going very well, and some are reflected in the recent development application for a new cinema and an indoor go kart track in one of the buildings.
“Commitments by a number of national brands in the food, beverage and retail outlets are being finalised for the other buildings, and I expect the new mayor to be announcing the future operator of the famous Commonwealth Hotel or Murphy’s Pub next year.
“Ipswich is growing fast, with some 10,000 people each year moving to call some part of this city as their home. A population equivalent to an entire Maryborough or Mt Isa will be added to Ipswich in the two years it will take for the Ipswich Central redevelopment to be completed.
“So this is seen by many forward thinking businesses as a key growth opportunity for them.
“Yes there are risks, any development carries some risks, but the far bigger risk for the community is not doing anything, given where we are at this point and time.”