New commercial centre: which parts do we need?


p2246-Whittaker-Plaza-2 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.


  1. Just add room for thought: Last week two businesses closed down on Stuart Highway and there are going to be three more in the mall soon. This will continue until we get industry. The council have been a big help by raising rates.

  2. Any growth in Alice is a positive. Where shops are closing others are opening.
    Kaye should be supporting and encouraging growth rather than constantly placing negatives on people investing in our town.

  3. You need to face reality: We have in the mall twenty empty shops. This will draw business away from struggling retailers. In a few weeks there will be three more shops shut and people need to have a look in Smith and Elder Streets. There is about 20 vacant properties.
    We have just lost two businesses on Stuart Highway and it looks like we are going to lose Toddy’s backpackers.
    I think it is a good time to consolidate and look after what we already have.

  4. More shops? We know retail has a shelf life because of online shopping.
    Perhaps we need to develop co-working hubs where small business people, who often work from home, can converge – one great example is in Ubud.
    I have worked there and it is truly inspirational. We need to bring our minds together and cooperate. It’s important for our economy to have building going on – now let’s innovate with how we use the buildings.
    If you bring coworking spaces into the CBD, then those people will frequent the nearby cafes so everyone wins.
    Pop-up shops are also an option making fun shopping spaces and using social media to promote them 🙂
    Just saying …

  5. As the owner of a location independent business, I look for travel locations where I can continue to work while enjoying a holiday.
    There is a huge community of people who work the way I do – I meet them every day.
    Accommodating this style of work / tourism could be one of the ways we explore new markets.
    Marketing Alice as a place to take an extended holiday, while providing good cyber work facilities, can overcome the high cost of the initial airfare.
    Cyber workers do make a lot of money and are able to move around at will.
    And many cities offer great cooperative work spaces.
    I choose to stay longer in those locations and I have lived this way for five years now.

  6. Just one more addition: I’m in Alice right now, but a few weeks ago I created a web site for a client whilst I was traveling in Taiwan and Japan.
    The WiFi everywhere was knock-your-sox-off-fast and unbelievably cheap – actually free in most instances.
    It was also available in isolated areas, up mountains, in temples, in trains … everywhere.
    Whenever I come back to Australia I am always disappointed that you have to pay a lot of money for inferior WiFi in hotels etc.
    And cafes everywhere (except Australia) offer free WiFi.
    For people like me, it’s not a luxury, it’s important and I’m sure many avoid places where they can’t have good cheap / free fast internet. There are things we can do to accommodate modern tourists, visitors and workers, but we lag far far behind.

  7. Development is important for Alice Springs (Supporter of Alice Springs and Fred). I think most are agreed on that. But it needs to be appropriate development.
    The Whittaker Street development appears to be an ad hoc development and it is not clear what, if any plan, the government or Council have for the long term development of Alice Springs.
    As Kaye Eade rightly points out, commercial and residential vacancies are the highest they’ve been in years. Add to that another 500 or so apartments under approval at the moment the situation will only get worse. It is inevitable that rents and property values will drop over the next five years or so, unless we can attract a lot more people to Alice Springs.
    Council did a body of work in 2008/2009 with external consultants some years ago with regard to bring life back into the CBD. A key feature of bringing life back into Alice Springs was consolidation of the CBD. Whittaker Street is firmly outside the area identified as CBD and in this regard, therefore a fragmenting development (bad thing).
    Interestingly and as an aside, the work done by the consultant also included a residential capacity report which identified the scope for nearly 1300 residential dwellings in the CBD.
    Why has this been ignored by the government in approving the Melanka and other developments? What a wasted opportunity to bring life back into the centre of our town!
    Any development needs to be looked at in terms of the benefit to the whole community. Of course a company or some companies will benefit if a large development is constructed. But that doesn’t mean it helps the overall community. I’d say the key criteria for evaluating a development are whether it makes our town a better place to live economically and socially.
    In the case of Whittaker Street this is hard to see. Being outside of the CBD it will compete for commercial tenants and potentially leave more vacancies. That’s a loss for landlords and businesses in the CBD and surrounds. If I think about it for a moment, that means Coles Centre, Yeperenye, Alice Plaza and the Todd Mall are all negatively impacted. Then there is a hotel and exhibition space so affecting Todd Tavern, Aurora, Chifley, Doubletree and Lasseters. Are we making friends yet? I don’ think so. Then there will be some inevitable loss of customer traffic from the CBD to the new centre. Another loss for CBD retailers.
    Now I’m worried. I’m starting to sound anti-development. I’m not. But Fred the Philistine is absolutely right. Development must bring people and industry to town. It has to be grass roots development, investing in industry, innovation and businesses which grow the town. It needs a proper vision and plan.
    Ad hoc developments which don’t address the fundamentals of growth only give a very short term benefit to a very limited number of people. In the end we want much better outcomes for the town than a few faster Finke buggies. Let’s get serious and get a decent plan for the future of the town and the Territory.

  8. Are we flogging a dead horse by always referring back to the CBD and the Todd Mall? Could it be time to move out of both?
    I wonder if this looking back is not somehow tied into the objections to the Melanka Towers and now the new transport hub. This idea that we keep Alice as she was has little merit when you consider that Alice as she was is dying.
    Property values will fall. I think we can count on that. Then, if we are lucky, we will grow and they will go back up again.
    Jane Clark is right that we need better Internet in Alice. If I have heard right, fiber optic is just around the corner.
    So maybe we just have to have a little faith here. Alice will survive.

  9. Do you think this proposed area would be better suited for an Aldi store? As they say, competition is good for the soul.

  10. I welcome any plans for growth and development. But there’s a big difference between plans and wishes.
    Developments must pass the test of financial viability. The big question with this one is where are the dollars coming from.
    This won’t get financial support from any institution if the dollars just don’t add up.

  11. How about we look at closing the International Airport at Ayers Rock and open one in Alice Springs in lieu.
    That would get Alice back to where it was 20 years ago.
    A busy, thriving tourist town.
    Ever since that International Airport was opened down there, things have gradually gone south in Alice.
    The proposed new transport hub with an international standard hotel would then definitely be viable!


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