There’s been a lot said, and still to be said, about the future of the Dickson shopping centre – or as it is officially called, the Dickson Group Centre.
Many of Canberra’s group centres have been going through a similar process whereby the Government undertakes a master plan for the centre and surrounding areas – usually as a surprise to residents as they did know they needed one.
In all cases the result has been the identification of land (usually car parks) to be sold and subsequently the change of zoning laws that allow for the installation of some mix of commercial and residential use – in order to provide the community with a vibrant and exciting future – which they may not have thought that they needed.
Cooleman Court came to Canberra’s attention recently with the threatened closure by the landlord of a popular café, Sakeena’s Café, situated by the south entrance to the centre.
So off we went for a café visit and to look around the centre – having not been there for several years.
It was about 11am on a cold Monday when we arrived and gauging by the car parks to the north and south, this place was busy. In fact I would hesitate to say that there is a good supply of parking and most of it is timed (2hrs – 3hrs etc) – and – more importantly – it is free.
The different to Dickson is that that Cooleman Court is a small box mall whereas Dickson shopping centre is the open plaza variety. The other big difference is that you pay for parking at Dickson.
Cooleman Court was buzzing with people. Somewhere in recent years the owners had revamped the mall and it was looking fairly attractive – for a mall. I could imagine that residents from the surrounding suburbs would shop here for most of their everyday needs.
There are two supermarkets (not three as planned for Dickson – why?), a fruit and veg outlet, several take away food places (one looking very tempting), and all the other stuff you expect from such a centre: travel, banks, hair places, clothes shops, chemist etc and even a cobbler. And a surprise – a record shop – Songland. Who would have guessed?
While the inside of the centre had been spruced up, the outside of the building is definitely looking a bit tired. But hey – that has not stopped the people jamming inside.
In the streets immediately outside are numerous cafes, restaurants, other food things and a host of other service outlets – in short, this is a successful group centre. One little surprise was that their garden centre – The Garden – was closed – empty – gone. Do locals not have gardens?
I have checked the stats on Weston Creek against the inner north. The inner north has twice the population and is younger. Yet the Dickson shops struggle and Cooleman Court bounces.
While these two group centres and their catchments are quite different, it does make you think about what it is that has not made Dickson far more successful.
I prefer the ambience of Dickson and its openness to the closed nature of malls, such as Cooleman, and others obviously agree given the success of the cafes at Dickson. But as for the other shops, they do struggle. One issue is the paid parking and that there is not enough, especially during summer when the pool is in full operation and people take any space available. And isn’t that going to be fun if the building of new supermarket monster goes ahead?
Then there is the fact that all the buildings owners do not exactly revamp their properties. Most likely they are waiting the chance for major development. Sadly that means that while the inner workings of Cooleman look attractive (for a mall), the plazas of Dickson are not going to win any tidy town or urban design awards right now. But those trees are wonderful – in summer.
And then there is the added bonus of the frequent beggars and the charity workers. Hmm – not so good.
I wish the community groups around Weston all the best in their dealings with the LDA in the coming years. My reading of the planning documents indicate that the community is now on record as agreeing to the taking over of much of the open space for future ‘vibrant’ developments.
Even if that leads ultimately to some good outcomes, based on how the agency has been handing the changes in Dickson, I can see similar problems for Cooleman. The current trend is for any new commercial/apartment blocks to be as big as possible and to be boring. And then with these new buildings occupying the present open car parks, all that free parking will be converted to paid parking. Fun!
The positive lessons from the various group centres should have been learnt and changes applied to those that struggle. This is one of the requests that falls on deaf ears in the Dickson debates. That is, it seems that there is no forward planning being put into place to see the Dickson shops survive the coming years of construction – not just with the proposed supermarket thingy – but with so much more of the group centre due for revamp with apartment blocks/towers everywhere. Surely some good old fashion planning would be timely right now?
Oh yes – what about Sakeena’s Café? The word on the street – at least from two friends we met – was that the café may not have to close after all. The food and coffee? The curry samosas we had were tasty – but not sure what happened to the curry – we could not taste any. The coffees were OK – nothing to write home about. However, given how busy the place was, there must be something happening there – maybe it is those cakes – so we will reserve our final opinions till after another visit – due reasonably soon.