Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Of Malls and Convention Centres

I finally had a wander down the 'finished' section of the Townsville Mall (or Flinders Street as it will soon be instantly recognised as around the globe).

Seeing no one is game to publicly bucket Council's latest little adventure in urban design (remember Flinders St East), let me be the first:
  • It's gonna be a bloody wet place to go shopping in the wet season
  • It's gonna be a bloody hot place to eat your lunch when it's not raining
On the plus side, some of Townsville's ugliest buildings are now fully exposed for the world's architecture tourists (and American boat people) to truly 'enjoy'.

More to the point, it seems that Council and the developer class about town have worked out that the renovation ain't going to work, ain't gonna make the Mall one bit more competitive as a shopping destination and ain't gonna be the $57 million incentive to potential investors in Lancini's Flinders Plaza development that it was designed to provide.

The building 'campaign' for Townsville's much mooted Convention Centre to be located within the CBD (read Lancini's Flinders Plaza ghetto)  is a great study in how these guys play the game (with the help of The Bulletin of course):
  • You simply start by someone with profile raising the suggestion - as CBD Taskforce chairman Craig Stack no doubt did in a call to Tony Raggatt who pushes the idea into play.  The same day the Bully's anonymous Editor does a support piece in his editorial - not too strident, gently, gently, place it second.
  • The next day you run a page-3 story (complete with front page header) in which, according to Raggatt, "the idea has been supported by Townsville Mayor Les Tyrell and CBD Taskforce chairman Craig Stack" (the previous day he had reported Stack and Tyrell as saying that the idea should be considered). 
  • While we're about it, let's introduce Lancini into play - carefully though, you wouldn't like to look too eager at the prospect of a $140 million key-stone tenant to kick your stalled development along.
  • And let's add a bit a bit of weight to the proposition by quoting an economist - and none other than local developer Carey Ramm
  • And for good measure, why not give Raggatt a 'Business Desk' opinion piece on the same day when he can invoke the ghosts of his father to argue that Lancini should have the subsidy Convention Centre.
In one sense, of course, they are all right - the only thing that will make the Mall work is more people!  However, no one is going to open a shop in the Mall on the promise of maybe lots of people attending a 2 or 3- day conference once a month for maybe nine months of the year.

And of course adding a few carparks (even at the expense of the hundreds that come to the precinct every day by bus - how dumb is that) is not going to make the CBD any more attractive or convenient or, therefore, competitive against Stocklands, The Willows etc

I'm afraid that population density in the CBD (both residential and office) is the only thing that will save The Mall and Council had their chance when they considered a proposal for the development of an Arts Centre (that could have also accommodated conventions) and office/residential complex on what is currently the carpark between Council and the Law Courts.  Instead, they chose to use the available funds to build the tack-on to the Civic Theatre which (coincidentally, of course) gave Les and the big boys a perfectly oriented balcony from which they can gaze down on Pitt Straight during the annual Ried "Park" dinosaur race.  Perhaps Raggatt should chase down that story.

A convention centre to save Flinders Street is a dumb idea - just like putting a road down the middle will prove to be.  But now that they've started the play, I'm afraid that we're all gonna have to watch it unfold over the quite holiday period when no-one is paying any attention to politics. After all, it might just lead to an extra $140 million subsidy support to the failed Flinders Plaza ghetto -on top of what is fairly obviously the failed $57 million subsidy Mall 'upgrade'.

Oh, did I remember to mention that Lancini is a gold advertiser with the Bully and probably the occasional supplier of free drinks to Tony Raggatt?

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