Inner West Independent

Success of renewal difficult to quantify

Behind the times: the Italian Forum in Leichhardt

Leichhardt Council has enacted the first stage of the “Renew Leichhardt” project, aimed at ensuring owners of vacant commercial premises are interested and involved in the project.

Stage One is aimed at kickstarting the effort to revitalise vacant and underutilised retail space in the inner west. Empt commercial properties in the Leichhardt area would host initiatives such as pop-up shops and artistic spaces, for little or no rent.

“This is an exciting project aimed at breathing new life, interest and activity into our main streets and tackling head-on the negative impact on our local economy of the high vacancy rates on particularly around the Parramatta Rd, Norton St and Italian Forum precincts,” a Council spokesperson said.

With commercial vacancy rates in Norton St over 13 per cent and on the rise, Greens Councillor Daniel Kogoy hopes the Renew philosophy will invite fresh interest in the area.

“We want to see those empty shop fronts brought to life with an eclectic mix, including NGOs, artists, designers, photographers, musicians, boutiques and galleries – that would really draw people back to those struggling parts of our high streets,” he said.

Council now has overwhelming support for the idea among Italian Forum commercial and retail unit owners, despite their previous lukewarm reception to the scheme.

However, Renew Australia’s draft proposal outline to Council notes that spaces will not be activated in the third and final phase until October at the earliest. Based on the current structuring of the project, a more realistic approximation for the first pop-up stall may be December, after the first two phases wrap up at an estimated cost of $55,000.

The draft proposal outline identifies that success is “unpredictable” and depends on “the cooperation of the various property owners, the level of interest generated for the tenancy opportunities, the strength and commitment of the local creative community…and ongoing engagement of the general community”.

Mr Kogoy has set the bar high in terms of predicted benefits.

“The costs of the Renew model are very low, while the benefits to the whole community are considerable. A recent study gave it a 10:1 benefit/cost ratio,” he said.

That study, published by the Integrated Design Commission of the South Australian Government, evaluated “Renew Newcastle”, where the Renew initiative began. It found “clear evidence of an economic multiplier effect” in excess of ten times the investment.

Key objectives for the Leichhardt project are not quantified in the draft report, but are expected to be supplied by Council’s Director of Environment and Community Management, Peter Conroy.

With success difficult to quantify in terms of objectives, the yardstick appears to be reduced rental vacancies and shorter turnaround times to fill vacant plots, an analysis that will be not be possible within the first year of the project.

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