By OSCAR PERRI
Nearly $200m is being poured into projects in the Alice Springs CBD from both private and government investment, as many shops remain empty along the Todd Mall.
The NT Government last week announced that construction had begun on another stage of the $20m “Alice Springs CBD Revitalisation project”.
The work is anticipated to conclude at the end of the year, and will see the construction of a shaded sitting area on the corner of Parsons Street and Leichhardt Terrace, and shade structures for pedestrian crossings and taxi ranks in various locations around the CBD.
In an April meeting, then Mayor Damian Ryan told council that $8.7m had already been spent.
Council also have $1.1m in this year’s budget for “upgrading and beautifying the southern end of Todd Mall”, though at last week’s meeting with the skatepark user group, CEO Robert Jennings encouraged the group to build a business case to have the money instead spent on a new skatepark.
Also in the mix is the National Aboriginal Art Gallery (NAAG), for which the NT Government has made an initial promise of half of the $100m investment in a “nationally significant arts trail”.
The NT Government wants the gallery built at the ANZAC oval site.
Meanwhile the massive redevelopment of the Alice Plaza shopping centre on Todd Mall, which will see the building grow to include a hotel, office space and apartments, as well as a “gentrification” of the existing shopping centre, is nearly ready to be lodged for approval with the NT Government.
All that the developers are waiting on now is a “letter of consent” from council, which does not need to be signed off on by elected members. Council says that the letter is “difficult to put a timeline on”.
The project is funded privately by a syndicate of around 10 investors, including Adelaide based Scaffidi Group who also own all three pharmacies in town and NT Pharmacy Guild president Peter Hatswell, who co-owns one of those businesses.
The project is being led by contractor Jeevan Deut, who says that while initially the costing for the development was $50m, their current number is now nearly double that figure.
Mr Deut says he has been working with the NT Government and Alice Springs Town Council to ensure that the developments fit in with their “CBD activation strategy”, but is not relying on government investment for the project to go ahead.
“We’re not relying on the success of anything else as a catalyst to us getting our project out of the ground.
“However, in saying that it will be absolutely complimentary to any upgrade within the CBD whether it be the NAAG or whether it be the general gentrification of the CBD.”
He says conversations are ongoing with the NTG about the $4.2m for the creation of a water play park in the Plaza, but it is dependent on whether the new council comes to the table.
Mr Deut says that while he has worked on similar scale projects in cities, this is a significant investment for a rural area.
“There’s very few people prepared to spend that kind of money in the regions, so it just doesn’t happen much.
“It’s calculated, and they’re big believers in this … there’s a very strong and lengthy affiliation with Alice Springs with a lot of the syndicate holders, it’s not just a bunch of city people.”
All this spending has not helped Nick and Sheila Hill (pictured): After nine years running the Todd Mall jewellery shop The Gem Cave they are shutting up shop.
Mr Hill says that mostly due to the impact of COVID-19, they were not doing enough business for it to make sense to renew their lease this year, given the high rent they were paying for the shop. They tried to renegotiate for a cheaper rent, but to no avail.
He pins their problems to the lack of international travellers coming through the town, as well as a general lack of foot traffic along the mall.
They quickly gave up on trying to sell the business, as there was little interest.
“[The landlord] helped us out with COVID at the start with rent relief, but we couldn’t operate on that sort of rent with no internationals.
“We could have moved to a shop with virtually half the rent in the [Yeperenye shopping centre] for a similar size.
“But I’m 65 now, I don’t want to sign another five or seven year lease.”
As well as the shopping centre, Yeperenye also own a host of other CBD properties, including the Centrelink and ANZ buildings, Springs Plaza in Todd Mall, K-Mart, Leichhtodd Plaza and the Woolworths Service Station.
As many shops on Todd Mall are closed, it is difficult to find out about their ownership.
An ask-around in the open shops on Todd Mall found that only one of the business owners spoken to owned their shop, while many said that their landlord owned multiple properties along the mall.
Obviously this is not perfect data, there were many building that were closed, and in some shops the business owner was not there, but it does give an indication that some of these bigger landlords could do very well out of all this investment if property value rises.
A few doors down from The Gem Cave, Alberto Pasquetti is more optimistic. He has just opened a restaurant on Todd Mall called Bella Alice.
He says the mall has “huge potential”, but work needs to be done to ensure that the public feel safe there at night for the mall to be a success.
Originally from Italy, Mr Pasquetti has been in Alice since he arrived as a backpacker in 2015, and has just received Australian citizenship.
This month’s council election was his first opportunity to vote in Australia, and Mr Pasquetti says he paid most attention to candidates who had a practical solution to problems in the CBD.
“Alice Springs relies, for a great part of its economy, on people coming from outside.
“They spend their money and they invest in the communities.
“The CBD, it’s the face of the town, if somebody feels unsafe and if somebody thinks that that CBD is in a really bad condition, they’re going to leave the town with this kind of mindset, and they will never come back.”