Subiaco shows signs of life as developments bring confidence after ‘super tough’ times

Source: ABC News

For the past few years, Subiaco’s main cultural strip has been on life support.

The once-vibrant inner city hub’s shine was fading, with businesses feeling the brunt of the end of Western Australia’s mining boom, a flat property market and the AFL’s move away from Subiaco Oval.

Business vacancy rates on the main street nearly tripled between June 2017 and August 2018, from 5.94 per cent to 15.19 per cent.

But now business leaders and retailers believe the mood is shifting, with large-scale developments bringing confidence back to the suburb.

Tanya Steinbeck from the Urban Development Institute of Australia’s WA branch said the last few years had been tough on businesses.

“I think the football had a significant impact,” she said.

“Unfortunately the property market and particularly areas like Subiaco rely a lot on momentum, and a lot on population and density.

“And over the last couple of years we haven’t seen a significant amount of population and activity coming into Subi.”

Downturn makes way for green shoots

Kim Knight is manager of the Regal Theatre and also runs the local SubiAction group, which includes a mix of business owners and residents.

“It’s been tough, it’s been super tough,” she said.

“For me, operating the Regal is a slightly different scenario than a lot of businesses in the main street here.

“I’ve definitely felt a downturn in the last few years but for the guys on the street here in retail … that whole way that people shop has changed.

“We’ve definitely seen a lot of good businesses close down.”

Despite a rough few years, Ms Steinbeck said there were green shoots on the horizon.

“What we’re seeing now though is a concerted effort from the local government, State Government and the private sector all at the same time, which is creating this groundswell of activity which we haven’t seen in Subiaco for quite some time,” she said.

The old Pavilion Market site has been approved for development, with Blackburne’s ‘One Subiaco’ plan bringing a boost to confidence in the area.

The site will see an extra 242 apartments come onto the market, as well as a mix of shops, cafes and restaurants.

The State Government has committed more than $200 million to develop a new precinct called ‘Subi East’, which will redevelop the 36 hectares of land near the existing football ground with high-density apartments and recreation options.

Subi East ties in with the soon-to-open Bob Hawke College, which will see students in classrooms at the new high school in early 2020.

Subiaco Hotel sale a good sign

The recent sale of the Subiaco Hotel has been seen as a marker of confidence in the suburb’s future.

“If the Subi Hotel had struggled to sell, that would sent a negative signal,” said Mark Hann from the Western Suburbs Business Association.

“The fact that there were a number of parties involved and they got the deal done, and it sounds like the two young guys involved — they’ve got some credentials, they sound like they’ve got some experience, [they will] perhaps reinvigorate it as a real go-to destination.”

Mr Hann said the pipeline of projects would have an impact.

“I think it’s still a very tough economic environment out there, I think there has been just an uptick a little bit in confidence. And that can make a difference,” he said.

“If there’s more people about there’s more foot traffic. If there’s more foot traffic, there’s typically more business being done.”

Subiaco Mayor Penny Taylor echoed the optimism.

“From a local economic perspective, that rolling investment through different projects coming online at different times, that has a really buoyant effect on the local economy,” she said.

A long road to recovery

The area is by no means out of the woods, with a number of businesses recently closing their doors.

And new data from Ray White Commercial shows the business vacancy rate on Rokeby Road is sitting at 14.74 per cent, only slightly down from last year’s 15.19 per cent.

But the property group’s 2019 Perth Retail Strip report cited new developments as a sign of rejuvenation.

“With a strip littered with For Lease signs and shut up shops, sentiment in the local market is low, however the redevelopment of the Subiaco Pavilion Market will be key to help rejuvenate this strip and create greater vibrancy,” it said.

“The large uptick in vacancy came last year after a number of iconic tenancies closed their doors.

“Challenging retail conditions were to blame with many closures, however over the last year we have seen some small improvement.”

Peter McDonald, who runs an accounting business on Rokeby Road, said increased density would not solve the retail strip’s problems.

“There’s no doubt that [the developments] will increase density, but there’s no evidence that they will improve business outcomes in the strip, that high density will bring increased business,” he said.

“As far as the other developments go, such as the Pavilion development, I don’t think there’s any evidence that the increased density arising from the Pavilion development will in any way replace the vibrancy that we had from the previous Pavilion Markets.

“I think that the [City’s] attempts to revitalise the area have been genuine, but they have not worked.”

Ms Taylor said there was no quick fix for the city’s woes, but added the future was optimistic.

“There seems to be an increasing confidence around some of the recent council decisions, with the approval of the Pavilion Market site, the Park Regis [hotel] coming online,” she said.

“With those types of things, other businesses start to see and go ‘this could be a great place to invest, this could be where I want to be’.

“In business, there is no quick fix that the local government can do.

“But what we can do is we can make it clear that the City of Subiaco is open for business, we’re ready to hear what business owners want to do … and I think that breeds confidence.