Friday, April 02, 2010

Save the Beardy Street Mall

I am still working on my second post updating New England's demography. In the meantime, an update on some of the things that I have talked about before. For length reasons, I am going to break this into several posts. 

Starting with a Facebook focus, one common problem faced by many towns is the way in which the construction of new shopping centres can damage the traditional CBD. Newcastle, as an example, is still struggling with the best way to redevelop its downtown area, an area that fascinated me as a kid. Lismore, too, has been damaged by the construction of big centres in nearby centres.

Now Armidale is experiencing similar problems, leading to the creation of a Save The Beardy Street Mall Facebook group that, as I write, has attracted 475 members.

If you look at the comments already made on the new group wall, you will get a feel for the ideas that are around. I thought that I might add my own brief comments and then post a link on the new Group wall.

For those who do not know Armidale, the main Mall is the central block that used to be centre of Armidale shopping. Now with the construction of shopping centres to the east and especially the west, traffic has been drawn away from the Mall. With a big Aldi store to be built several blocks away, the position could get worse.

In my weekly Armidale Express column I am presently writing on my reactions to Armidale from a visit after a gap of several years. In this week's column (this will come on line next week), I talk about my shock at the number of vacant premises and especially in what was Richardson's Arcade, just across Dangar Street on the western edge of the Mall.

This need not mean gloom, however.

To begin with, the central Mall is in a somewhat different position to, say, the Newcastle CBD problem. The shopping centres to east and west are in fact only a block's walk away, so access is quite easy. Further, the shopping centres themselves are quite small. They are not like a Westfield in, say Bondi Junction, Pagewood or Parramatta, where sheer size tends crowd out. For example, you cannot do your Christmas shopping in Armidale Centro. The stores just aren't there. So redevelopment is quite possible.

Now the first problem to be overcome, and here I am talking from a visitor perspective, is that Armidale's CBD has become remarkably complicated for such a small city. Knowing the place well, I suffered from very real culture shock as I drove around: just working out where to go was not easy. This is especially important for a place like the Mall. How are visitors to find it? My simple suggestion was a CBD map.

The second issue is that the dynamics of parking and parking restrictions need to be reviewed. I don't support the idea of opening the street up again, but parking is an issue. Again talking just as a person seeing the city anew after a gap, I found the patchwork quilt of restrictions quite confusing. I wanted to be in town for a couple of hours and could find no suitable street parking. I know Armidale well, so went to the Hanna's parking lot. Even though the top floor was closed for reasons I do not understand, the ground floor was almost empty.

Again a CBD map would help. However, I think that those interested in Mall growth need to map parking availability for future planning. You see, one of the things about the Mall is that people going there actually need access to longer term parking as compared to, say, a quick visit to the supermarket.

One of the Facebook commentators referred to the loss of buzz from the Mall. I think that's true, although on the Saturday morning I was there the presence of buskers and the massed pipe bands coming to Armidale for the Autumn Festival did create an enjoyable buzz. Here I think of Martin Place in Sydney where the stage area, if somewhat larger than Armidale, does draw people because of the entertainment. I think that Council and Mall operators do need to look at just what might go on in the Mall on a regular basis and especially at lunchtime. This need not be huge, but it does need to be regular.

One commentator referred to the wind. That westerly can be bloody cold. Wind breaks would help, as would the type of outdoor heaters now found so frequently in Sydney and especially Melbourne. I wondered if cafe owners were in fact allowed to erect wind shields? However, this goes to a broader issue.

In some of my Express columns, I have referred to the re-birth of Melbourne as a cafe society along European lines. This hurt Sydney so badly that it lead Mayor Clover Moore, among other things, to push for changes to licensing laws to facilitate the creation of Melbourne style eateries. I have suggested that Armidale should look to Melbourne: both cities sell life-style.

When I was Chair of Tourism Armidale back in the nineties, I saw Armidale and especially the Mall developing along what we can now call Melbourne lines, with the creation of specialist stores and eateries. It hasn't happened. To my knowledge, there is not a single place along the three blocks and especially in the central Mall that you can sit outside at lunchtime and have a meal and a drink.

Food, drink, entertainment and specialist shopping still seem to me to be the key.


Anonymous said...

Because it's a boring, unfriendly, small minded dump! Always has been, always will be. The best thing about A'hole is the view in your rear view mirror as you leave (hopefully never to return)

Jim Belshaw said...

Sorry you feel that way, anon. It can be a difficult place, sometimes.

Rod said...

When I used to live in Armidale the East Mall always seemed to struggle a little bit. Shop turn-over (changes to the operating businesses) seemed to be a bit higher than other areas of the city. When I recently returned I was horrified at Richardsons arcade - such a lovely arcade almost totally empty! It was sad to see! Yet to me the Mall always had a great feel. I don't know what council regulations are in place that might restrict its use but it cant hurt to try and loose regulations up to help draw people back right into the centre of town.

Jim Belshaw said...

Interesting comment, Rod. The east mall did struggle, especially as people traffic shifted to the west. Like you, I was a bit horified at Richardson's Arcade. I agree on regs, but I think that it needs a more proactive approach in general.

Anonymous said...

Last spring My daughter and I were attending a weekend function at Armidale Uni whose aim was to attract future students. Going for a drive on the Friday night to have a look at the downtown area we mistakenly drove into a one way street adjacent to the Mall. The signage was not obvious, being badly lit and very high. Immediately on entering it was obvious and I turned around at the first available spot. Sadly the Police were immediately behind and booked us. They had no sympathy for the confusion aroused by the Mall and the lack of directions and signage that affect a visitor to the town.

Jim Belshaw said...

That's a dreadful comment, anon. I will bring it up in a post.

Anonymous said...

As a recent visitor to Armidale, it seemed to me that what it lacked was a definite precinct feel to the inner city and the mall area especially. It holds so much promise to become so much more than it has become.
What is needed is a fresh injection of culture and style and boutique shopping. Somebody?

Anonymous said...

With the price of fuel in Armidale always $8-$10 a tank more than anywhere else , and the restrictive parking , i give Armidale a big swerve. Just like Aldi Has too. You decide to stop in Armidale for a quick shop then realise your hungry , and then realise you only have an hours parking so have to move ! - Crazy town , crazy prices , crazy expensive council rates (up 20% ?) leading to more crazy prices . Race to the bottom i'm afraid as its UNSUSTAINABLE.

Jim Belshaw said...

Anon one, my apologies for such a very slow response. You make a very good point.

Thanks, too, anon two for the comment. I'm not as pessimistic, but I take your point.

Anonymous said...

I shop in Armidale and would like to see more competition for the supermarkets.I am always happy to start the car and head south out of Armidale

Jim Belshaw said...

That's sad, anon.

Otto von Heidleberg said...

People have different tastes. One might find Canberra totally boring or Armidale a "dump". However there is no reason for anyone else to agree with those sentiments, especially made by an illiterate "Big Time" Wannabe, who is out to impress everyone else how self important he is. It is not a prerequisite for existence to be like South Yarra, St Kilda, Darling Harbour or inner city Melbourne. What really stands out in Armidale is the peacefulness, serenity and honest genuine qualities of the people who live here. I have just moved here and in one month, I can say I would rather be here than anywhere else. I can read road signs and have no problem using my GPS or even an ordinary map.
There will always be people who see nothing except deficiencies, rubbish heaps and stink in the air. Characteristics quite akin to the poster "Annonymous" I might add. Trash in a word.. Armidale is the "Jewell in the Crown" if we are talking about traditional values and kind hearted people bred on Country Forthrightness and genuine values.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jim
I'm currently researching writing a journal article about the impact of shopping malls on towns in Australia, I have included Armidale but due to living in Adelaide are reliant on resources such as newspapers, ABS data, business publications etc. I was wondering if you have any documentation around mall its supporters, opponent etc. prior to opening? Actually any documentation you could provide on the mall and retail in general would be greatly appreciated.

Dr Michael McGreevy,
University of South Australia

Anonymous said...

I was under the impression before Centro was built that Armidale was over-supplied with shops. Then Centro was built and K-Mart responded with an expansion. There was no way the number of shops in Armidale would be sustained. The Mall has been most severely hit, and is now in a rather sad situation. Solutions? Armidale needs to grow its population and to do that, more creative thinking needs to occur at the council level.
Parking is an issue too. I don't park on the street for fear of vicious parking enforcement, so I go to the major centres like most other people seem to do.