The Giralang shops developer has reaffirmed its commitment to the long-awaited project but warned that it will require a new development application that could further drag out the process.
Nikias Diamond director Dimitri Nikias told Region Media ahead of his appearance before an Assembly inquiry today (27 May) that he was hopeful of movement on the shops after the ACT Government lifted the 1000 square metre restriction on a supermarket in Giralang, allowing the much more attractive 1500 square metre proposition.
He said the company had been in discussions with more than one national operator every two weeks for the past six weeks.
“I am in discussions, and they’re coming out of the COVID period, so the discussions are a bit more fruitful. I can’t say anything more than that,” he said.
But he warned that if a major chain could be signed, Nikias Diamond would have to lodge yet another DA that he expected would attract objectors in nearby shopping centres and “the whole cycle could start again”.
“All our ducks are lined up, but we have to make sure the DA public notification process doesn’t go pear-shaped,” he said.
Mr Nikias said that an operator could compete with the Kaleen shops with the larger supermarket space, saying the notion of a retail hierarchy in the ACT was out of date and factors such as shop size should be left to the market to determine.
He said the national chains’ CBD operations in the major cities were bleeding due to COVID reducing city workforces, but they were coming out of that and needed to show growth to their shareholders.
Mr Nikias said the feedback from the Giralang community had always been that it preferred to have a national chain that stayed the course rather than a small operator that might have to close its doors if things did not work out.
Last year Nikias Diamond pressed pause on the project after failing to secure a supermarket tenant, including the residential apartments.
Mr Nikias said there had been some pre-sales, but he did not believe it would be fair to continue with the project without also delivering the supermarket.
He said the property was still held by four brothers in their 80s who had a firm commitment to do the right thing.
“It would have been very easy to have a whole residential block there, but it’s not what the community wants,” he said.
“I really think that after COVID, and the increase in the [supermarket] size, we’ve got a better chance now than we did say six or seven years ago.”
Mr Nikias said the company would also respond to community concerns about the untidiness of the site and potential safety risks by upgrading the fencing over the next few weeks and cleaning up the site.
The company, which has been letterboxing residents to keep them up to date, also wants to hear suggestions for interim uses and activities at the site until development can commence.
The Giralang shops saga goes back 15 years, involved legal action all the way to the High Court, and in 2018 Mr Gentleman used his call-in powers to approve Nikias Diamond’s development application. The construction ground to a halt last year, and the matter has been brought before an Assembly committee this year.