By ERWIN CHLANDA
A well designed transport hub for rail and road “is a fantastic idea, arriving tourists would experience a wow factor,” and the building industry would welcome the work. But do we need another hotel, more retail outlets, restaurants and another plaza?
That question comes from Chamber of Commerce CEO Kay Eade in response to the government’s announcement of a commercial development in Whittaker Street, opposite Harvey Norman.
“The vacancy rate of commercial premises in the town is 17% and the residential vacancy rate is at 7.5% – the highest it has ever been,” she says.
The inaugural Red Centre Nats have more than 250 registrations. The target was $150: “If these big events are coming to town, it seems tourism accommodation is needed. On the other hand, Toddy’s Backpackers are shutting down at the end of the month, an indication of the current economic climate.”
There does not seem to be a clear plan guiding the government in its decisions about the town’s development, says Ms Eade.
There have been “all those workshops” about the CBD, but without a clear strategy emerging.
“In this economic climate, do we need all of that? There’s room for a couple a coffee shops and a nice transport hub, but a site with more empty shops would be the last thing we need, especially where tourists are arriving.”
The town council did not know of any current office holders in the Todd Mall Traders’ Association who could be asked for comment.
Ms Eade says there are mixed views about the social value of the northern Todd Mall in which the government invested $5m.
An exhibition centre is also part of the Whittaker development, says Chief Minister Adam Giles: “The revitalisation of the inner-city area would improve the amenity of the town and provide a significant boost to the economy.
“The Territory Government invited expressions of interest in developing two lots of land in Whittaker Street in December last year.
“Whittaker Street Developments was selected as the preferred proponent to proceed to the next stage and will now begin detailed planning and commercial studies to realise the project.”
The spokesman for Whittaker Street Developments, Michael Sitzler, the head of a construction company founded in Alice Springs but now active mostly in Darwin, is quoted by the Chief Minister’s media release as saying: “I am extremely excited to be given the opportunity to further develop my vision for this key site.
“In consultation with the Northern Territory Government, I am determined to see this happen.”
The Alice Springs News Online has put the following questions to the office of Treasurer Dave Tollner: Who owns the site? What is it worth? On what criteria was the Sitzler proposal selected and by whom? What are the deadlines and the financial requirements for the development? Is there a minimum spend stipulated? Is the government putting in any cash? If so, how much.
UPDATE June 12 at 6:37pm:
An aide to Treasurer Dave Tollner provided the following information:
• I’m still waiting on information from the Department of Lands and Planning but in the meantime I can confirm that:
• The site comprises Crown land and privately owned land. I don’t know the value of the Crown land site or its size at the moment.
• It is not known to what extent, if any, Territory or Commonwealth funding may be required.
• There are no deadlines at present, but it is anticipated that the project facilitation stage will take 12 months.
New commercial centre: which parts do we need?
By ERWIN CHLANDA