Friday, September 12, 2014

Always think first about the people who’ll use this place – then think about the building.

Always think first about the people who’ll use this place – then think about the building.

 Wise words from a person who saw value in society and what really endures.  Buildings may crumble and burn, and then what?  People passing on stories, trading goods, creating communities, passing on skills and values – these things endure.

By now the Myer story is well-known to all Hobartians.  For those of you outside of Hobart, the Myer building in Liverpool Street burnt down seven years ago.  Over the years, Myer’s retail was a institutional drawcard in the city, more so as Charles Davis and Fitzgeralds disappeared to be replaced by cheaper quality retail.  With all the attempts to get it rebuilt quickly, under enormous public and trader pressure on the Hobart City Council and the State government, those seven years have seen a change in retail, while construction has barely commenced.  Myer has operated with a smaller, cramped front in Murray Street, and a bulky goods/homewares store in Macquarie Street.  It’s not optimum, as you just no longer get the range of goods once available. 

The question is, after Myer officially released its Myer ASX & Media Release / Thursday 11 September / Myer Full Year Results ending 26 July 2014, will we ever get the same Myer retail back?  Myer having promised and promised an opening by Christmas 2015, we now find it pushed back another year.

To say this is disappointing, is to underestimate the depth of the disappointment.  And how must the small retailers in the CBD be feeling, having borne the brunt of a burnt site and lack of people traffic?

So what’s going on?  We all now shop differently.  The rise of on-line retail is hurting big department stores.  There has also been a deliberate shift in thinking at the Myer CEO/Board level. 

Financial reporters write that it is now more profitable for Myer to operate off-line than through a brick and mortar site.  It is shifting away from building flagship stores to free-standing stores (FFS Retail), a process that Bernie Brooks and two other Directors have spearheaded in changing the way retail is done.

It has been reported that FSS Retail is potentially being positioned to help Myer expand from its network of 67 department stores around the country by building free-standing stores that might be placed within shopping centres or along suburban retail strips.  Last financial year Myer's exclusive brands grew its sales by $40 million and now account for 20 per cent of the department store's $3.1 billion in annual sales.  The retailer has set itself a target of 1 per cent growth in its Myer exclusive brand category over the next few years and the bulk of that is expected to come from acquiring new fashion labels that bring with them a portfolio of free-standing bricks-and-mortar stores.  Read more at:

At the same time, it is public knowledge and well reported in august journals such as the Financial Review that Myer has been in difficulties, that it was roundly slapped down over its bid for David Jones, and that it has announced the closure of a number of retail outlets and stopped or delayed the upgrade of others.  Myer expected to have 80 stores opened by 2013.  It currently only has 67. 

The recent announcement of delaying opening in Hobart should then come as no surprise for those who join the dots and read the annual reports. 

It is, however, enormously disappointing.  A lot of us grew up shopping at Myer, either in Hobart or Launceston.  The Liverpool Street store offered choice and good quality merchandise, even as retail offerings changed rapidly in the nineties and noughties.  At its peak, customer loyalty was incredible. 

Yet given what is reported in the press, does Myer, as personified by the much anticipated new building, have any loyalty to Hobart?  Or will there be further changes announced? 

It is time now for all of us to consider a rethink in how we do retail in the absence of anchor department stores in Hobart.  It is time to reconsider how people use the City, and then worry about the buildings. 

In an unashamed reverse of build it and they will come, this is the time for all of us, elected people, ratepayers, traders, to rethink our CBD.

Yes, we’ve all talked about inner city living and there are opportunities with this.  But be aware, noise is an increasing problem for inner city living and there will be trade-offs with quality of life.  Yet that is also an opportunity to redesign how we build, and how we manage traffic and people activity.

It’s time for Hobart to move into top gear as a university and research city.  The anticipated UTAS building at Melville Street will bring more people and breathe new life into how people use and live in our city.  Already the Menzies Centre buildings have shifted people around from Sandy Bay up into the CBD. 

Council has some great plans for people places derived from the Gehl Report – we’ve already made some changes, but it is time to bring more projects that attract people to both live and work in the city forward. 

It’s time for Hobart to stop placing all its hopes in major projects and start to focus on smaller enterprises.  Nice if we get the big projects, but seriously, people come not only to shop, but also to eat, to meet, to celebrate.  We need to think more about what makes Salamanca such a good place for these activities, and apply these learnings to the CBD.  More activity such as Farmers’ Markets and Night Markets.  And let’s keep on encouraging small-scale festivals that are not afraid to offer limit-breaking entertainment.

It’s time for a roundtable of all of us, to contemplate a future that may have Myer in it, but is not dependent on it.  Tasmania, and Hobart, are small enough we can be different and create different opportunities for people. 

If you want to renew the City Centre and help make a new future for Hobart as a real people place, how you vote in the upcoming postal ballot elections will affect this.  Hobartians, choose your future!

Authorised by Eva Ruzicka, 10 Congress Street, South Hobart

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