Europe’s most famous food markets are the blueprint for a multi-million-dollar redevelopment of the Belconnen Fresh Food Markets, which aims to turn the suburban shopping hub into an artisan food and entertainment precinct that will be the envy of Australia.
The ambitious project will transform the 45-year-old market into a 4300 square metre food mecca featuring indoor and outdoor dining, food demonstration areas, restaurants, bars and agricultural produce from some of the region’s best farmers and fishers.
The market will be flanked by 400 sqm of landscaped green space with outdoor seating and a sound garden featuring percussion instruments made by a local artist. Parking for 200 cars will sit below the new market hall.
Renamed Capital Food Market, the state-of-the art climate-controlled food hall is expected to open mid-2022 and is the second part of a four-stage redevelopment of the Lathlain Street site.
Stage one, in which existing tenants including Chemist Warehouse and Petbarn have moved to a new complex on Ibbot Lane, is complete. Stages three and four, likely to be delivered within the next five years, will comprise residential apartments and retail.
“The market and retail will anchor the residential around it,” said Belconnen Fresh Food Markets General Manager Christopher Young, long-time former GM of Melbourne’s successful Prahran Market who has been brought in to oversee the redevelopment.
Mr Young is joined by veteran food writer and critic Anthony Huckstep, who has been hired to source the right mix of producers and hospitality operators for the venture.
“The Crown lease doesn’t allow for a supermarket which is beautiful in the sense that this will be a traditional market featuring specialists in their field,” Mr Huckstep said.
“In the centre of the market will be an activation area that will be used for pop-ups such as during truffle or mussel season.
There will be food hub islands – wine bars and sushi places and different things like that – where you can stop and get a plate of oysters and a glass of chardonnay. On the outskirts of the market will be bigger restaurants selling things like pasta, pizza or dumplings.”
Mr Huckstep said Canberra’s popular Three Mills Bakery will be doing “something special” at the new site, and the group was in negotiation with several other big-name hospitality specialists. “We’re talking to some pretty interesting operators,” he said, adding that while it was important that the market was representative of the local region, it would also likely comprise one or two ‘headline acts’ from interstate.
The market hall, designed by Canberra’s Stewart Architecture, will have an industrial feel with high ceilings, concrete floors and generous natural light. The site will be much larger than the existing market footprint, with space for potentially 50 operators and extensive dry cool storage for vendors.
To the right as you emerge from an escalator leading up from the car park will be an expansive fresh food area. To the left and centre will be the food service area with communal tables, demo areas and premium hospitality operators.
Mr Young said Sydney investment company Elanor Investors Group, which bought the site for $43m in 2018, had done a ‘study tour’ of some of the best markets in Europe – including Barcelona’s La Boqueria, London’s Borough Markets and Torvehallerne in Copenhagen – to get inspiration for the project.
He said Barcelona’s La Boqueria – one of Europe’s largest markets featuring a vibrant mix of specialty traders, bars and food and drink stalls, as well as large tenancies for traders of fresh produce – was the example on which the Belconnen project would be most closely modelled.
“It’s all about getting the mix right – casual dining and fresh food providores – and capitalising on the theatre and atmosphere each can bring,” he said.
“We’re looking at demonstration areas and things like an incubator where we can offer space for a rotation of small traders. We’re not interested in chains of any sort – we want to get the best small providores we can find.”
Mr Huckstep says he is keen to hear from specialty producers including cheese and pasta makers, charcuterie specialists, butchers, fruit and veg growers, fish mongers, hospitality and food service professionals and more, who would be a good fit for the market’s ethos.
“We just want people who have great products. The Canberra food scene has evolved quite rapidly in the past five years and the new markets are part of that evolution,” he said.
“Some of the greatest artisans and producers are quite small businesses and there are tiny sites available – little hubs where we want to have these guys. The more artisan producers we have, the better the market is going to be.”
Existing operators will continue to trade throughout the redevelopment with most moving across to the area vacated by Petbarn soon after Easter, so the build of the new market hall can commence.
“A market like this is something Australia needs and wants, and it would be nice to think that there could be more of them in other cities after this one,” said Mr Huckstep.
If you are a producer or hospitality operator interested in opportunities at the new Capital Food Market, visit capitalfoodmarket.com.au to register your interest.