BALLARAT’S CBD urgently needs a facelift if it wants to compete with vibrant regional centres like Bendigo or Geelong, an internationally renowned urban planning consultant has said.
Revitalising the heart of the city – in particular focusing on the Myer corner at Sturt and Armstrong streets – would go a long way to attracting and keeping much-need retail and tourism dollars in the city, said founder and managing director of Village Well, Gilbert Rochecouste.
Adding three or five-storey buildings to the Ballarat CBD skyline and even underground parking were also not beyond the realms of possibility.
But he was most critical of the Bridge Mall, which he said lacked a distinct identity.
Mr Rochecouste, who has been credited with the revitalisation of the laneways in Melbourne’s CBD, as well as the concept for Federation Square and now the master plan for the Rundle Mall in Adelaide, has been working with the City of Ballarat in recent years with concepts to breathe new life into the CBD.
While he said little money needed to be spent on creating vibrant public spaces, he did stress the community must work harder and smarter to make it happen.
“A combination of art, greenery and laneways, similar to The Lane (in Lydiard Street North) is really all that’s needed to make good public space work. Amenities can be pieces of art that will put pride back into the community,” Mr Rochecouste said.
“Retail will not suffer if the focus of this revitalisation is through arts and culture. Art creates a beautiful place, it creates energy and it puts bums on seats.”
A good example of arts and culture bringing tourism dollars into regional areas was in Bendigo, he said, with the Bendigo Art Gallery in recent years attracting such renowned exhibitions as Weddings and the Grace Kelly exhibit.
A good mix of innovating developers and strong civic leadership was essential for Ballarat to keep up with neighbouring Bendigo, he stressed.
“Ballarat has a great opportunity (to revitalise), but it will take bold leadership and bold developers to make it work. What Ballarat needs is creative and courageous leadership from council and for the council and developers to work with the traders and give them support.
“If you keep thinking that it will be business as usual, you will stagnate and not survive.”
Mr Rochecouste said the Myer corner at Sturt and Armstrong streets deserved to be a piazza by creating a “physical heart” in the street with a cafe outside the Town Hall. He said at least two or three extra eateries, similar to The Lane in Lydiard Street North, should be added to the mix.
The Bridge Mall, he said, needed to recreate itself if it was to survive in the future.
“The mall needs an intervention ... it needs a quirky identity and a remix of its shops to include two major department stores,” he said.
“Both ends of the mall also need to be activated and it requires a heart in the middle.”
Mr Rochecouste, however, would not be drawn into the debate over the future of Ballarat’s Civic Hall.
Asked whether he was following the stoush over the Mair Street building, Mr Rochecouste said he was “aware” of the divisive row, but would not give an opinion as to whether the Civic Hall should stay or be demolished.
“The community has a great opportunity to create something special.
“I understand there are some people who fight change, but change is always coming and at a radical pace,” he said.