9 October 2022

Call for action on 'derelict' Richardson Shops as owners caught in 'vicious cycle'

| Lottie Twyford
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People outside the Richardson shops

Richardson residents are crying out for something to be done with their local shops. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

Residents of Tuggeranong are calling for something to be done about the eyesore in Richardson – the local “derelict” shops.

Like many local shops, the Richardson shops have suffered a demise in recent years.

It began when the big supermarket – which kept the foot traffic strong – closed in 2019. Smaller businesses like the hairdressers, where Kathy Ditz had worked for a decade, followed soon after.

A Richardson local, Ms Ditz has had quite enough of waiting for something to be done.

“Every time I drive past it, it really grinds my gears,” she said.

“It looks terrible and it’s really disgusting. It’s like a slap in the face saying this is as good as it’s going to get for you guys in Richardson.”

As a hairdresser, Ms Ditz talks to a lot of people and she said they all have the same desire to see something done with the shops, whether that’s a bakery, a supermarket or a cafe.

“People really want something there. It feels like we have been neglected. We’re not a fancy suburb so it feels like we’re not important.”

“We just want a bit of pressure on them.

“I might be dreaming a bit, but imagine if they put a roller skating rink in there?” Ms Ditz laughed.

READ ALSO Giralang shops ‘nightmare’ is over with new developer set to start construction

She’s lodged a petition with the ACT Legislative Assembly urging the government to take some action.

“Residents appreciate that these shops are privately owned; however, we believe more can and should be done by the ACT Government to improve this situation,” her petition stated.

The petitioners have called on the government to better incentivise business owners to occupy shopfronts rather than keep them vacant.

The only thing is, the government says it can’t help – it doesn’t own the centre, and the land it’s on has been leased to a private company.

“We are responsible for the maintenance of the land surrounding the shops. Public amenities and open space around the shops are maintained and cleaned as part of our regular programs,” a spokesperson for the government said.

“In late 2020, a new feature playground was opened next to the Richardson shops, which was identified through the Better Suburbs community forum and co-designed with the community.

The government said it hopes that investment will spur private investment into the nearby shops.

READ ALSO Saving trees and an aggressive infill agenda? It’s one or the other, say builders

But the centre’s owner, Michalis Investments, said they are coming up against roadblocks of their own from the ACT Government.

And they are well aware of what it looks like and why it’s going to get harder to get tenants in – not easier.

Kosta Michalis said he’s doing everything he can to get new tenants in.

“We don’t want it sitting there empty as it’s giving us no return and negative rent,” he said.

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In the last three years, successive attempts to get a childcare centre and mechanics in, and even a proposal for a service centre replete with shops, have been knocked back by the government due to the proximity to other services and a school, respectively.

“The longer it sits there empty, the harder it is for us to get tenants in,” Mr Michalis explained.

“All we are doing is cleaning up, replacing broken glass, cleaning graffiti, and removing people’s rubbish from the back where it gets dumped.”

It’s a “vicious cycle” of trying to keep the place presentable so tenants want to move in but not wasting money on keeping it clean, only for it to be vandalised once more, he said.

READ ALSO Housing crisis enters dangerous new stage and government needs to act

Mr Michalis is holding out some hope, with plans underway to lock in a couple of tenants in the next few months.

Part of that process includes having to make a 12-month-long application to the Territory government for a purpose-clause change to the Crown Lease, he said.

Removing some roadblocks would be welcomed, but Mr Michalis isn’t holding out hope for any change at a government level.

He’s unconvinced that the government’s investment in the nearby park has helped either, noting it has somewhat encouraged the “wrong crowd” down to the area.

Earlier this year, ACT Greens backbencher Johnathan Davis floated the idea of a vacancy tax – which would be slapped on commercial landlords – to help revitalise local shops.

The commercial property industry slammed the idea, arguing it would be unreasonable and a form of punishment for owners who wanted tenants but couldn’t find them.

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If you want to blame anyone for this, blame Coles who bought out Supabarn.

https://the-riotact.com/coles-to-buy-supabarn-supermarkets-in-act-and-nsw/149286

Oh these whingeing whineing Canberrans. Just like the Giralang shopping centre the locals didn’t support Richardson. High rents and lack of community support saw the shops close one by one. Giralang residents haven’t stopped whingeing since. It isn’t as if they haven’t got accessible major shopping centres close by in Kaleen and Gunhahlin. The owners of these sites don’t care. These are profitable sites and there are no laws compelling them to do anything. Meanwhile the public blame the govt and demand that they fix the sites. The owners refuse to do anything hoping the govt will buy them out at an exorbidant and overpriced rate or meet their demands to develop on their terms. I think I’m in agreement with Jonathan Davis on this one. Impose a significant tax on the owners to fix their properties up.

Windows and graffiti don’t appear by themselves. Sadly, I expect the derelict condition of these shops has been caused by local youths.
I must admit, I just shook my head with disbelief when the ACT Government funded an upgrade of the playground adjacent to an empty shopping complex.
I can’t see a supermarket reoccupying the site.
Maybe it’s best use is for the owner to divide it into smaller “professional” type offices eg accountant, law firm, vet, real estate agent etc.

Anyone know what changes the owners want the government to agree to? Perhaps in this case a more outcomed focused planning system might be useful so that some creative solutions can be found that are a win/win for the locals and the owners.

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