A leading real estate agent has voiced concerns over the future of Warrnambool's CBD following the sale of prime retail space to a national service provider.
The former Thomas Jewellers building, which is believed to have sold for in excess of $2 million, was purchased by GEN U in August and is currently undergoing remodeling so the business can move in.
While selling agent John Ryan described it as a "very good sale", he said he was disappointed to see the loss of retail space from Liebig Street.
"I would have considered a better use for the site would have been retail," Mr Ryan said.
He said shoppers were put off by the cost of car parking in the CBD. "It's a huge problem," he said.
Mr Ryan said it was a significant transformation to not have retail in such a prominent, prime location in the CBD.
"That should ring the bell that there's an issue, and the issue is that retail is tough going," he said.
He said it was not right that shoppers in the CBD had to pay for parking when there was thousands of free parks in Warrnambool's east and Dennington.
"How is that fair? How is that equal?"
Mr Ryan said he had fielded interest from both national and state retailers for the prime site, but they couldn't justify the cost.
"The problem is we need more people in the CBD which gives retailers a reasonable chance to transact," he said.
"If the people are not there, the tills are not ringing.
"We've got to make the CBD more attractive."
Mr Ryan said Warrnambool was regarded as one of the strongest retail areas in regional Australia.
However, he said that while the Liebig Street renewal had been done to a high standard, it was the car parking and fear of being fined that was putting people off coming into the CBD to shop.
"People who historically want to come into the CBD are now not," Mr Ryan said.
Mr Ryan, who two decades ago was behind push for a multi-storey car park behind Target, said car parking was an issue close to his heart.
He said he wanted to see parking meters replaced with free, timed parking. "We can't have staff parking outside the front door, that's not fair," he said.
"If people are bruised because of paying car park fees and then being exposed to fines, and in other regional centres there aren't any, why are we persisting with parking meters?"
Mr Ryan blamed car parking for restricting the growth of retail in the CBD.
"The longer it's left unchanged, the more hurt there's going to be," he said.