While council deliver a mantra of sustainability the signs of a collapse in the Fremantle economy is glaringly evident in the CBD.
I took a walk around the area and counted in excess of 40 properties which are empty, offered for lease, or moving. The total is probably closer to 60 as the Woolworth’s building houses a number of vacant outlets as does the Coles Woolstore. These pictures were taken within about 250m of the Town Hall
Very recently one new retail outlet, selling high quality home furnishings and decorations, has closed after six months. It was located in the Mall, opposite the Town Hall. The rent was $240,000, higher than similar sized properties in downtown New York.
Shepherd’s News agency have to move from their prime spot. It holds the longest serving tenancy of Fremantle. The original Shepherd’s News Agency was established in this building in 1908 and the current business owners have been there for 26 years. They now have to move aside for developers.
The Woolworths shopping centre, next to St Patrick’s, has been closed for a couple of years. It was gleefully broadcast that this would bring new life to the east end of the city. Opposite them the Hilton site, which used to contain a number of shops, is derelict and scheduled to become a temporary car park.
The centre hosted about 20 retail and office business’s. They were not included in my count of about 40 empty premises.
CODA, a mainstay of council’s PR sustainability spin, have closed shop and amalgamated with a Perth based company. CODA was a foundation stone of the Future Fremantle organisation, established to build a better Fremantle.
And finally, in one vacant shop window the mayor delivers his mantra of a vibrant city.
Fremantle’s current council were voted in on promises delivered by a mantra – Sustainability. But what progress has been made on the back of the buzz? Very little.
Councillors Mute in the Face of Developers
Now, with time running out on several plans, notably the King’s Square development, a new buzzword is worming around the West End – Demolition – and not a single councillor has actively promoted the notion of conservation and restoration and been courageous enough to condemn the plan to demolish 75 High Street. Forgive me if they have but it would be very useful for the public to become aware of any such notions by their elected members.
Gobbledgook from the Green’s Corner
We have been blessed with Councillor Sullivan’s obfuscation in relation to the recent application for demolition of 75 High Street. Sullivan is a master of discombobulation, leaving readers and listeners wondering what he actually stands for. Interestingly he lists among his architectural achievements his involvement with the Leighton Beach and the Northshore developments. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it is up to individuals to judge those developments. Apart from Sullivan there appear to be no councillors with architectural experience.
Spongy Economics of King’s Square
If we are to apply demolition tactics to old and singularly unattractive buildings we should look closely at the spongy economics of the King’s Square plan. An obvious option would be to give Fremantle a truly attractive town centre by demolishing the Myer building and the carpark at the rear as well as Queensgate. This area could then become an attractive central park which showcases the Town Hall and St. Patrick’s Church. It would have on one boundary a row of beautifully renovated cottages. New council administration offices could be built on the Spicer’s site, overlooking the city square and accommodating a library above ground. (The current plan calls for an underground library). That is obviously not going to happen but it may be the best and most economical option for the city in the long run.
Is Conservation Uneconomical? That suppositon is easily disproved
Fremantle’s historic architecture is sustainable. Should the buzzword now be ‘conservation’ which, by its nature, encompasses ‘sustainable’? Critics have said restoration is uneconomical and that people don’t like working in old buildings.
The University of Notre Dame has restored a large part of the West End enclave. Their architect, the late Marcus Collins, successfully designed and directed the renovation of properties while maintaining the architectural integrity and character of the West End and he was able to work within what he described as a limited budget.
The success of the university in attracting students and staff to work and study in the enclave is patently obvious. Logic demonstrates that stylish, high quality, renovation of properties can be accomplished and make economical sense. Notre Dame have also demonstrated that it is not necessary to increase height. Interestingly so have Match with their east end redevelopment of the old wool stores. In spite of council approving a height increase on the building Match went back to their figures and decided it was more profitable not to increase the building’s height.
World Class Restoration Succeeds: Fremantle needs Civic Pride
Recent world class restorations in Fremantle include The National Hotel, The Federal Hotel with the Warders’ Cottages nearing completion. Shortly the renovated Norwegian Consular Office on the corner of Cliff and Phillimore Streets will be unveiled. These are examples council should be noting and learning from. They should not bow to pressure from property owners wishing to demolish and rebuild with added height using the developers mantra- ‘It’s the only way to make it economical’
Fremantle needs imagination, cultural nous and civic pride to be demonstrated and promoted by councillors, developers and architects.