Making the CBD vibrant, again: Detail, please.


It’s wakey, wakey time for the Labor pollies in The Centre.
According to a Budget media handout from Chief Minister Michael Gunner today the Alice Springs CBD will get $20m “to bring it to life and attract people into town … investing in the Territory’s future … in jobs, children and community … generate excitement … a safe and vibrant community”.
Braitling’s Dale Wakefied chimed in announcing “a major CBD redevelopment … funding to unlock business and industry development and make the CBD a safe and vibrant place for families and visitors to enjoy … see it grow into the vibrant, bustling town [Alice] should be”.
Positively vibrating and sensing a light at the end of the tunnel, I breathlessly rushed off an email to Ms Wakefield: “Who will the money go to? Give details of the five major initiatives that will be funded. And can we have chat, please.”
Regrettably, the answer was bit of a downer: “There’s not a great deal of detail that can be provided at this early stage, as we’ve just announced the funding allocation.
“Government will work closely with the Alice Springs community to identify and plan and deliver key projects to revitalise the Alice Springs CBD.
“Planning and design works will commence in 2017-18 with more details announced as planning gets underway.
“When we have more info on what’s planned it would be great to have a chat then.”
p2257-empty-Mall-shop-1Quite a different story in Darwin, which will get $100m from the same bucket in order to, quoting Mr Gunner, “rejuvenate the Darwin CBD, creating hundreds of local jobs and transforming our city centre into a world-class tourist and cultural destination”.
No shortage of detail there: “Finishing State Square by undergrounding 400 carparks near the Supreme Court; demolishing the Chan Building and moving the NTG computer centre; a fine arts gallery in the State Square; moving the bus terminal; refurbishing the old Reserve Bank; removing the old naval fuel tanks, unlocking land for potential future development; moving students and part of Charles Darwin University to the CBD; $50m towards a new museum under a 10-year Museums Masterplan announced yesterday.
It’s as though the government has quite forgotten a planning process for the Alice Springs CBD that was completed not so long ago, with a number of  identified projects to be getting on with. The first were the works that resulted in the reopening of the northern end of Todd Mall to traffic and the redesign of the streetscape there.
Many are of the view that the works fell well short of their revitalising goals, which is mainly because none of it was really people centred. We know what gets people into the mall: having things to do there. Will a new building program, which is what the government seems to have in mind, achieve that?
Hello! Is there anybody out there?


  1. This announcement, following hard on the heels of the dire budgetary situation for the NT, is highly reminiscent of a quarter century ago.
    Here’s a few comparisons: The CLP won the NT election campaign of October 1990, which it was at risk of losing earlier that year after much infighting and instability; the ALP wins the NT election campaign in August 2016 after much infighting and instability in the previous CLP government.
    Shortly after its election victory in 1990, the CLP Government announces the formation of an Expenditure Review Committee chaired by Treasurer Barry Coulter in light of the dire budgetary situation in the NT, concurrent with a worsening national economic outlook.
    In April 1991, seven months after the elections, the NT Government announced major cutbacks in expenditure including the ending of government programs, and the abolition of 1220 public service positions to be achieved through attrition and a freeze on recruitment.
    In March 2017, eight months after the NT election campaign, Treasurer Nicole Manison faces up to a massive decline in GST revenue for the NT by abandoning the Government’s commitment to return the NT budget to surplus by 2018-19, non-renewal of government programs and reduction of the public service through attrition – all within the context of a clearly deteriorating national economic outlook.
    Now we have an announcement by the current NT Government intending to rejuvenate the CBDs of Darwin and Alice Springs.
    In 1990 the major project underway in Darwin was the State Square development, which began with the construction of a new Supreme Court opened late that year. Hmm, sounds remarkably familiar within the context of 2017 in Alice Springs, doesn’t it? The second stage of the State Square project was the construction of the new Legislative Assembly, completed in 1994.
    In Alice Springs we got a commitment for revitalisation of the CBD! During 1992 the Department of Lands and Housing commenced “Planning for the Future Development of the Alice Springs Central Area” under the project title “Alice Springs – Visions for an Oasis Town” which (in my opinion) can be easily re-imagined by the current government’s emphasis to make Alice Springs the “capital of inland Australia” (maybe this description is in consolation for no new Legislative Assembly in the Centre!)
    Dale Wakefield’s assurance that “Government will work closely with the Alice Springs community to identify and plan and deliver key projects to revitalise the Alice Springs CBD” is markedly similar to the extensive public consultation and planning the NT Government undertook in late 1992 (I’ve still got my copies of the extensive “response forms” for the key topics of land Use, buildings, conservation, mobility and your choice).
    Very little eventuated from all of this activity, although we did get the Tom Brown Roundabout at the entrance to Heavitree Gap which was actually part of the design for a four-lane extension of the Stuart Highway through the Gap announced in 1986.
    So here we go again – frankly, I can never overcome my suspicion that George Orwell’s dystopian society described in Nineteen Eighty-Four isn’t simply a caricature of the regime in which we find ourselves.

  2. “To unlock business and industry development and make the CBD a safe and vibrant place for families and visitors to enjoy … see it grow into the vibrant, bustling town [Alice] should be”.
    Maybe it should be like Alice used to be before politicians, developers from out of the Territory invaded it. May be the Yellow Rabbit and the court house represent them.
    Sorry guys, no hard feelings, just reminiscence from the good old days which will never come again.

  3. Funding to unlock business and industry development and make the CBD a safe and vibrant place?
    We can do a lot with no funding.
    A vibrant place means no empty shops. It means activity and people in the mall.
    If shops remain closed because rents are too high the Mall will never be vibrant.
    The council should levy rates on the properties in the Mall dependent on their use or lack thereof.
    If a shop is empty charge higher rates.
    Make it better for the landowner to rent their property at a lower rate than leave it empty.
    The shops will open and more people will come to the Mall.

  4. Can anyone shed light on the multistorey car-park that was suggested at one point for the Church Car Park? Is that still being discussed or has it been dropped?
    [Hi Michael … google our site.]

  5. @ Evelyn: Have you not yet realised that this town is only a social security town, heavily reliant on government monies? If that slows down everything does. Alice Springs has had its hay days. It’s time the Northern Territory pulled its head in like all of the other states of Australia and learn to stand on their own two feet.
    The only way you are going to get the CBD vibrant again is for us to have industry. No industry, no jobs.
    If you take out all of the departments dedicated for the indigenous, the whole town would look pretty sick.
    We Need Industry.

  6. Oops, forgot to mention about the greedy landlords. Maybe they can pull their heads in with the rents.

  7. We need people living in the CBD to bring more life there and create the safety provided by numbers of people on the streets.
    Government could help by policy decisions which encourage this.
    Local government could help by modifying the rating regime to encourage part-residential buildings in the CBD.

  8. Todd Street / Mall? Vibrant? Again?
    Seems memories play tricks with people. When was Todd street ever vibrant? Maybe on a Bangtail Muster Day but really! It’s just shops and shops are NOT vibrant.
    I know where you got the word vibrant from but that, too, was clouded memory. Shopping centres cannot be vibrant, ever.
    It’s people who add this quality. People, and if they don’t feel like being vibrant, then it won’t be.
    You must get the people of the town interested, not just landlords, councillors and wannabee politicians. Real people.

  9. @ Ross Chippendale (Posted May 1, 2017 at 6:23 am): Anyone who’s lived in Alice Springs from before the construction of the full pedestrian Todd Mall would recall that Todd Street (as it used to be) was a highly vibrant location, as it was the main retail area in town.
    We didn’t have the Alice Plaza, Yeperenye Shopping Centre, K-mart and (before 1980) the Coles Complex.
    Todd Street (in the CBD) featured two supermarkets at either end, with Woolworths in the north (where the cinema complex is today) and Egar Beavers at the Heenan Building corner.
    We had the Stuart Arms Hotel on the Parsons Street corner, and Todd Street featured pleasant shopping arcades especially in the northern end (Turner Arcade and Gorey Arcade), and there was the fabulous B-Mart general store in the north end, too. There was so much more.
    Todd Street was crammed with traffic and tourists, as long ago as the 1960s when Alice Springs’ population was well below 10,000 – but it was also a time when The Alice was THE pre-eminent tourism destination of the Northern Territory as it was the gaps and gorges of the MacDonnell Ranges that collectively was the main attraction, and Ayers Rock was an adjunct to those attractions.
    Todd Street became a victim of its success at a time when there seemed to be no limit to the possibilities of growth and expansion of the town.
    The first recommendation to convert Todd Street into a pedestrian mall was made in the HKF consultancy report into the Central Australian tourism industry released in late 1969.
    The concept probably would have worked if the recommendations of that report had been adhered to but over the years the failure of proper planning and disciplined consistency for appropriate developments ruined its chances of success.
    The expansion of retail developments across the CBD during the early to mid 1980s were based on the assumption that Alice Springs’ phenomenal growth would continue indefinitely into the future.
    However, the completion of these major developments coincided with the end of this massive expansionary phase and suddenly the town found itself overdeveloped with a substantial excess of commercial retail and office space.
    Something had to give and it did. The new Todd Mall collapsed virtually from the moment of its completion in late 1987 and has never recovered from that time onwards.
    Many millions of dollars, both private and public, have been spent trying to jumpstart the Todd Mall ever since, and the current government appears intent on continuing to throw good money after bad in a vain attempt to recover the situation.
    This simply won’t work because we’re ignoring the facts that the town’s stagnant population is oversupplied with existing retail facilities and tourist numbers are inadequate to make up the difference.
    A very different approach is required but, on the evidence observed so far, it seems far too much to hope for from the current crop of “experts” in bureacracy and business.
    I’m left seriously underwhelmed by the NT Government’s current approach to resolving these long-running, deeply entrenched problems of, frankly, our own making.

  10. I am reminded of the quote (perhaps spuriously) attributed to Thomas Jefferson: “A government big enough to give you everything you want, is a government big enough to take away everything that you have.”
    While ever we must rely on government to provide the economic stimulus we are in dire trouble. Government always seem to think that spending (borrowed) money is a quick-fix solution. Like a junkie: at best it’s temporary till the need returns.
    It appears that government knows no other way. Our local council could make more worthwhile changes with policy initiatives e.g. changes to rental fees in the Mall open spaces; even significantly cheaper rates for businesses ON the Mall and the arcades leading to parking areas etc. to encourage business activity to return.
    The Night Market and even more regular food stalls along the strip would all bring people.
    These must complement rather than compete with restaurants. Subsidise for six months to establish behaviour patterns if necessary.
    The problem isn’t unique to Alice. Many CBDs have been killed by decentralised shopping centres.
    Darwin is a classic itself. We need creative solutions. Some will need money but others less so. Sorry, but grand plans like river vistas just won’t do it. Fewer consultants would be a great start.


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