Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Traders left in the dark

The multi-million dollar makeover of the Brunswick Street Mall could take more than a year yet those likely to be most affected by the work – nearby traders – have been left largely in the dark about the project. Lord Mayor Graham Quirk some months ago unveiled plans for the $4 million overhaul of the mall but an Independent survey has shown local business owners know little or nothing about the project, how long it will take to complete and what it hopes to achieve. The traders have relied largely on scuttlebutt and rumour from customers and are divided on whether Cr Quirk’s claims that the project will boost the area’s day economy will prove correct. For its survey, this paper concentrated on just one group of businesses: those in the McWhirters centre who are still recovering from the lengthy closure of the Waltons walkway a year ago. Nick Criticos, who has run the McWhirters Farmers Markets for 26 years, said City Council had not given him any information about the project. “I’ve not been well informed at all. All I know is from hearing people talk about it. I heard someone say that it’s going to be designed in a way that keeps the louts and druggies away.” When told the project could take a year, Mr Criticos replied: “Oh?” And after a pause added a clearly resigned “Great.” He doubted the project in itself would bring more customers to his marketplace. Business was already the worst he had known in 20 years and he had lost 2000 customers a week as a result of the closure of City Council and Optus business offices over recent times. “They are hanging us out to dry here. It’s all happening down the James Street end. Nothing is happening our end. What we need is more office blocks so we have new customers.” Even though he had heard the work would be done in stages, Mr Criticos said of the construction period: “It’s going to be bad. People will stay away.” Asked if he and other traders would seek compensation for losses likely during the construction phase, Mr Criticos said: “I want a meeting with (local councillor) Vicki Howard to talk about that before it all happens”. Angel Yin, who runs the McWhirters newsagency, delivered an emphatic “no” to whether the city council had kept her informed on the project. She had only overheard rumours from other business owners, adding: “Council needs to have better conversations with people.” She said the construction phase would have “a very bad impact” on local traders and said of the year-long work timetable: “If they say one year, it means two years.” One trader who remained hopeful that his customer base would not be affected by the work was Wang Heming, who with his wife Oi Hua runs Fresh to Go. But he added quickly: “I’d like it to be done quicker. I’d like to see it done in six months.” He had heard nothing from council about the project and relied on what he had heard “for a few seconds on TV” months ago. Mr Wang said he agreed with council’s view that the project would improve the day economy. “It’s much needed to bring people back to the Valley. The Valley has old buildings and needs something new. No more nightclubs. We need real people to come here. “If you make the Valley look better, we will attract more people.” A relatively new trader in McWhirters is Richelle de Lange who runs Deja Brew opposite McDonalds and just off the Valley mall proper. Asked if council had kept her informed of the project she said: “Definitely not. The only thing I’ve heard was some months ago when it was on the news. She said council would need “to do a lot of work” to achieve a boost to the local day economy. “What’s the point of [the project]. What do you get for $4 million? They shouldn’t just band-aid it. They should do it properly and bring new life back to the area.” Ms de Lange said that although she had been attracted to the Valley because she loved “the down -to-earth people drawn from all walks of life” she accepted that many people “won’t come here because of its reputation”. She would like to see more advertising undertaken to promote what was already happening locally and the good things it already offered visitors.