LOWER council rates and more major chain stores are vital to save Warrnambool’s CBD retail hub from slipping further down the path to obscurity.
That’s the opinion of property consultants working to put new tenants into the increasing list of empty premises vacated by traders struggling to pay high rents in a depressed economy.
Onerous new regulations on disability compliance have also been blamed for adding up to $150,000 in establishment costs for new tenants.
However, there is hope in sight with the latest city valuations showing some CBD property values down as much as 30 per cent.
Several tenants have recently blamed soaring rents for their decision to close up.
David Turner, director of DTP consultants, and Danny Harris, a partner in Wilson Real Estate, agreed council rates for the past few years had far exceeded the real market value of central commercial properties.
Mayor Michael Neoh said a recent revaluation should redistribute the rates burden and he urged property owners to set fair rents and know the tipping point for tenants.
High-priced sales to government departments and employment agencies in recent years are believed to have skewed overall valuations which form the basis for rates calculations.
“The elephant in the room is not high rent, but outgoing costs of council rates, water rates and land tax if applicable,” Mr Turner said.
“Council should stop fiddling around with window dressing — there needs to be a proper study into retail land use within the CBD looking ahead for the next 30 years.
“Major retailers such as Big W, Officeworks and JB Hi-Fi are looking at Warrnambool, but where should I suggest they go in the city centre precinct.
“Until we get new large format stores to generate shopper traffic, Liebig Street will continue to fast become a strip for offices, food and accommodation.”
Mr Harris said lower rates would translate into sustainable leases.
“I think there will always be a place for retailing in central Warrnambool, but not the duplication we see now,” he said.
“Free parking would provide an incentive that would get more people in to shop and more tenants to set up.”
Mr Turner suggested the council-owned car park between Grace Avenue and Fairy Street as an ideal site for a large- format retailer. He also floated the idea of moving the railway station to near Deakin University and using the old station site for shopping development.
Cr Neoh said a retail strategy had been carried out several years ago and it was up to property owners to attract long-term tenants.