Majura Parkway has brought Costco, IKEA and bulky goods shops to within 45 minutes of Goulburn. The giant multinationals’ business model is to draw customers from the region as well as Canberra.
But instead of being a threat to surrounding retailers, this can be turned into an opportunity for Goulburn, says Warwick Bennett.
Mr Bennett, Goulburn Mulwaree Council’s general manager, is overseeing a dramatic makeover for the heritage city’s central business district. The aim is for a more attractive and entertaining centre for people to supplement their big box shopping with a trip into Goulburn.
“[Majura Park] is becoming a major retail centre for Goulburnians,” Mr Bennett says.
“You can’t wander around IKEA or Costco or any of those large shops without seeing someone from Goulburn there.”
The council chief believes there is an opportunity to supplement that shopping experience back in Goulburn.
“We just need to work with the community to make sure that happens,” he says.
“I would like to see Goulburn people open their shop fronts a wee bit more to the street, for more light, more openness.”
Herringbone-patterned brick and pale aggregate paving, crepe myrtle and pear trees, planter boxes and street furniture are replacing dreary bitumen footpaths in Goulburn’s main street.
Mr Bennett wants trees lining the street and along the median strip, parallel parking to replace angle parking and more shop-top residential accommodation.
“Over the next two years we want to develop a more robust CBD plan, make things happen more easily than what they currently do,” he says.
Mayor Bob Kirk, Mr Bennett and the council are working with the Chamber of Commerce and prominent business people to reinvigorate their shopping centre.
Leading Goulburn real estate agent Angella Storrier is taking up the switch to greenery, inspired after a trip to Boston for her high school reunion.
“Everywhere I went there were flowers,” Mrs Storrier says.
Her day begins watering baskets of flowers to liven up her main street frontage.
Across the road, Farmer Feld’s Fresh Produce, which once had a large produce stall at the Canberra Farmers Market, has opened the front of its fruit and veg shop with a cafe and outdoor seating.
“The cafe showcases what we are selling inside, so people can taste it. Anything we make, you can make it yourself,” says Farmer Feld director Susan Feld.
Mr Bennett wants restaurants and food outlets to bring their kitchen and processing activities to the front of their buildings for customers to see.
“We can’t sit as a retail, a business, a council community or community per se and hope things will go right,” he says.
“We have to take a lead. We have to start shining, and become a point of difference.”
Parking will change dramatically to create a more open, pedestrian-friendly precinct.
“Parked cars don’t purchase things in shops. Pedestrians do,” says the general manager.
“Too many cars park in the main street in my view, it is controversial because people in a regional town like Goulburn want to park outside the shop they purchase from.”
He wants parallel instead of nose-in parking, and only for people who struggle to walk 70 or 80 metres: the disabled, the elderly, and maybe parents with prams.
“People say there is not enough parking in Auburn Street now. My response is, isn’t that fantastic? Because the last thing I would like to be is in a city where you could park anywhere you want to, it means your CBD is dead.’’
The Goulburn Group, a not-for-profit community group of civic-minded volunteers, is clear on reinvigorating the CBD. President Mhairi Fraser says assuming that preserving Goulburn’s built heritage drains the public purse is short-sighted, because visitors, shoppers and new residents are drawn to places with character.
“Repurposing a heritage-rich CBD is like kick starting the heart of a community,” Ms Fraser said.
“So what can we do? Firstly, create an inspiring plan based on principles of adaptive reuse of heritage, sustainable urban design and community wellbeing.”
Mr Bennett says the council’s major overhaul, which includes turning the former council chambers into a $12 million performing arts centre, will not saddle the town with higher rates or debt.
Brewster Hjorth Architects has issued this 3D Fly-thru of its concept design for the Goulburn Performing Arts Centre:
The 1883 building’s original timber ceiling, new reception, bar and cafe will complement a 420-seat theatre, bar and cafe.
“We have $98 million in the bank,” Mr Bennett says.
“The previous council accumulated, accumulated and accumulated. They did not spend enough money on the community. Why does the council need $98 million in the bank? That was the question I asked. I don’t think they do.”
Pictured at top, Angella Storrier tends to her flowers. Above, Susan Feld welcomes customers. Photos: John Thistleton.