Slings and Arrows: Mall traders stuck between a rock and Gawler Place

Gawler Place is set to begin a nine-month revamp, but a Council report with the project’s risks blacked out leaves Ash Whitefly wondering if traders know what they’re in for.

A Place near the Mall

Back in about 2013 a councillor threw up an idea to tart up the character of the North Terrace-end of the city’s Gawler Place because it looked dumpy. Someone later reminded them that a future upgrade would be linked to the 2011 master plan upgrade of Rundle Mall. The idea fermented for a while.

It was a curious concept because, even with wider paths, new paving and trees, that end of Gawler Place is unlikely to end up as a ‘cultural hub’ because it’s dominated by an ugly giant cavern of a council UPark’s entrance with cars constantly entering and leaving, and scores of taxis coming and going, with loitering drivers clustered nearby, awaiting shoppers.

Opposite, there’s a grubby laneway that accesses the back doors of mall businesses. Despite all that, a handful of attractive little shops struggle to survive, facing the street.

Money’s no object

This month a $7.85 million, nine-month reconstruction kicks off, to focus on that end of the Place, plus the Grenfell Street-to-mall section, adjacent to the City Cross eastern entrance.

A feature of projects costing this much is a legal necessity to produce a Prudential Report, revealing all. This purports to leave none of the big city commercial ratepayers in the dark about the hairy bits. But the report is a little shy on detail because slabs of text were redacted at the October 10, 2017 release with thick black lines obscuring the text.

In revealing that there would be 12 Inherent ‘High Risks’, one ‘Reputational/Political Risk’ (plus five associated High Risks) and one extreme ‘Service Delivery Risk’ (plus five associated High Risks), it then became silent on some details, because four pages of explanations were blacked out. All told, there were eight blocks of explanatory material cut.

Two councillors on October 10, 2017 tried to have them revealed, but their colleagues wouldn’t agree. This was despite the law specifying that such reports must reveal all if the project is expected to feature potential financial risks. In a classic case of how lawyers write things, that little word ‘if’ makes it feasible to reveal ‘if’ (as in yes) but not the specifics.

Nothing to see here

There’ll be serious effects on traders, but council claims it has thoroughly consulted with them.

However, there’s no mention of the taxi drivers, who will lose much of their former loading area a few metres from the mall (they’ll get a smaller area further north). Taxis do it tough already and the loss of some ranks at this key city site will hurt.

And while a street rebuild occurs outside the UPark station, mall-bound shoppers driving in will look to park elsewhere and council will lose car park revenue for much of the period. The forecast loss, not presented in this report, is $590,000, but an undefined amount is related to the North Terrace tramline upgrade. Ouch.

“Given the proximity of the project works to the Gawler Place traders it is inevitable that these traders will be heavily impacted during the construction phase,” the report confesses. Their turnover losses aren’t estimated.

But to soften the blow, council promises that construction teams will work after business hours, in small sections, and try to let cars get in and out even when the road looks like an Iraqi streetscape just after the bomb went off.

Gawler Place on both sides of Rundle Mall will be revamped this month

Happy New Year

Street works will disrupt the vital summer sales period. For many small shops facing Adelaide streets, the New Year and summer sales bring in important cash flow. It helps balance the lower turnover during the colder months when footpath browsers prefer warmer big centres.

It’s debatable how many city councillors or administrators understand this concept. The report is more focused on council’s desire to fulfil objectives in government strategic plans and pursue that euphemistic vision “generation of a new level of vibrancy.”

There are also other administration preoccupations. The report reveals that the street upgrade may boost future council revenues by increasing business premises valuations, which may increase rates. It doesn’t record how the traders responded. Were they warned?

There’s also a reference to anticipated future outdoor dining permits, related to the rebuild’s wider footpaths and trees. This is curious because there are few food shops in either streetscape. Is the council trying to send a message to the finance companies, chemists, musical, fashion and trinket traders?

The big question

Then there’s the detail that every trader wants to know before the construction teams arrive — how a $7.85 million road and path rebuild paid from their rates will boost future business and encourage them to stay. Sorry: the council confesses ‘not interested in knowing’.

Quote: paragraph 4.3.2: “The City of Adelaide has not attempted to quantify the potential economic or social benefit resulting from the proposed project.”

Ash recommends that the traders instead seek new careers in local government administration. There’s no rent, no overdraft fees, no accountancy costs, no payroll to manage, no stock control necessary, no weekend or late-night trading — and a high salary is paid weekly, even during leave periods.

Header image: Artist’s impression of the Gawler Place renovation