empty shopfronts on East Street
empty shopfronts on East Street Jann Houley

'It won't be easy': Mayor faces CBD revitalisation challenge

REVITALISING CBDs is a challenge for communities across regional Australia and Rockhampton is no exception.

It is a complex challenge and there is no easy answer.

Like every other council around the nation we have researched, borrowed ideas from other centres, and come up with a few of our own.

I had a conversation with an expert in the field of CBD revitalisation a little while ago.

Mayor Margaret Strelow.
Mayor Margaret Strelow. Chris Ison ROK210618cKershaw8

He said that the only never-fail solution was to significantly increase your population!

We will keep working on that - but we will also take any steps that we think make sense for our community and are sustainable for council.

In order to thrive, CBDs need an environment where many elements are considered - economic development, social and cultural offerings, transport solutions and lifestyle.

Advance Rockhampton, through our in-house specialist, has been rolling out a tailor-made program which has had some success and is certainly drawing attention from other centres.

Programs like broad-ranging development incentives for new businesses, rates concessions for commercial and residential mixed-use properties, the dining platform program and facade improvement grants are all there to drive businesses and customers into the CBD.

Many of these programs are similar to what other regional cities have done or are starting to do.

In many ways even our Riverside redevelopment is similar to what other regional cities have done.

The beauty for us is that Quay St runs parallel to our main commercial shopping street so it has the best opportunity to support retail in the CBD.

We have installed free Wi-Fi and improved lighting.

Our new Smart Parking system allows us to be more effective in keeping a turnover of carparks in the main shopping precinct.

And council is in the process of creating more than 120 new carparks on the former Wintergarden site.

Underpinning this are initiatives driven by the Art Gallery such as the Art Gallery Pop Up on Denham St (expressions of interest are still open) as well as events from Advance Rockhampton such as Laneways and the River Festival to bring more people into the area.

The Rockhampton CBD was transformed into a paddock of its own during Beef Australia with life-size bulls, live music, markets and of course a live feed into Beef's centre ring.
The Rockhampton CBD was transformed into a paddock of its own during Beef Australia with life-size bulls, live music, markets and of course a live feed into Beef's centre ring. Leighton Smith

During Beef Australia our Urban Paddock was very well received and drew visitors into the CBD.

There's also a large body of work being undertaken behind the scenes - workshops with our local businesses to help them to grow their presence and negotiating short term rental agreements where we can facilitate as the head lessee.

At the same time, we are laying the foundations for longer-term growth over coming years.

The Art Gallery on Quay St connecting Riverside to East St will dramatically increase connectivity between the two and give people the incentive to visit more shops.

Artist's impression of the new $31.5 million art gallery.
Artist's impression of the new $31.5 million art gallery. Contributed

Plans are under way to formally develop a fishing and recreational precinct to drive more tourists into the area.

This is currently part of a draft amendment to our Planning Scheme.

Part of that amendment also involves rethinking opportunities in Quay Lane to allow for small scale offices on the ground floor.

Currently that's only allowed above ground level but the reality is that there is a lot of space in a prime CBD location which could house more businesses.

Council has led in a very tangible way by moving approximately 60 staff into prime CBD offices, which means more foot traffic and lunch time shoppers.

The Planning Scheme changes are in a submission which is currently sitting with the State Government before we can go to the public for formal consultation.

There are so many more things that could be listed - I haven't even mentioned the Smart Hub with more than 40 start-ups, or our partnership with CQUniversity for the space at the Bond Store - but there is no doubt all these actions are heading in the right direction and having an effect.

We regularly monitor and evaluate what is happening in the CBD.

It won't come overnight and it won't be easy, but we are on the right track toward a more vibrant, stronger and prosperous CBD.



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