What use to be Geelong’s go-to area for shopping seems to have become a wasteland, with more than 70 empty shops either up for sale or lease in the CBD precinct bordered by Yarra, Gheringhap, Ryrie and Malop streets.
In 2014, it was reported that 87 shopfronts around the Geelong CBD were vacant. In 2017, that number has only fallen slightly.
To help fill the 72 empty retail spaces, the City of Greater Geelong has begun works on a project which it hopes will breathe life into the struggling city centre.
Little Malop Street and Johnstone Park are the first on a long list of developments which form part of the council’s Revitalise Geelong program.
Geelong MP Christine Couzens believes the retail experience in Geelong needs to be improved.
“There needs to be not only people living in (the CBD) but attractions to draw people in to be able to look at what shops are there. I think there are issues around not providing shopping experiences that people want,” she said.
“We’ve got major shopping complexes such as Westfield. But outside of that, we don’t have that boutique-style shopping that people like to have in big cities.”
Hayden Spurling, a former mayor of Geelong and owner of Squire Shoppe on Ryrie St, argues that filling empty shops will all be in vain if the city can’t rectify problems with traffic flow, trucks and public transport.
“You never, ever have busses and B-doubles going through a CBD. No other city in the world has it, and yet we do and we’ve been talking about it for years and years,” he said.
“The transport hub has been a disaster wherever it’s been, and not enough thought has gone into that. There are plenty of locations that they can go while servicing the city, and still not affecting businesses.”
While cafes and boutique shopping are currently planned for areas such as Little Malop Street, larger businesses such as WorkSafe Victoria are getting ready to make the move into brand new offices in the Geelong CBD.
Geelong Chamber of Commerce CEO Bernadette Uzelac believes that a mix of business is necessary to bring people back into the city centre.
“What we need to do is encourage different uses within the city. So a different mix of occupancy from large organisations such as Work Safe, TAC, and the NDIA through to the small businesses,” she said.
“People no longer need to come into the centre of Geelong for their shopping. So its really more about the experience when they come into the city, and so it’s going to be about those unique experiences.”