THE writing was on the wall for the Ipswich CBD mall in 2016.
For years foot traffic has been dwindling with many blaming paid parking, but the past six months saw a mass exodus of long-term businesses.
One by one shop owners announced they were no longer willing to struggle through in the face of even lower foot traffic and increasingly “under performing stores”.
The biggest shockwave came in October when supermarket giant Woolworths announced it would be leaving the precinct after January 1.
Now the pressure is on the council to follow through with its long awaited redevelopment plans and make 2017 the year the Ipswich mall transformed.
Since August, six long-term businesses have either closed, or announced their intention to do so, based on the lack of foot traffic.
‘Unsavoury characters’ have driven the customers away, they say, while others made a financial decision to close “underperforming stores”.
Shoppers say there’s no reason to go there anymore; even though the remaining business owners would disagree. In November, the council announced its latest plan to transform the Ipswich mall, bringing the people back into the CBD.
It’s the action business owners have been desperately wanting for almost a decade with some saying after countless “consultation” sessions and the announcement of “final plans” they’d almost given up.
“We’ve been earning just enough to cover our costs,” Sue Navie said in August.
“It’s just not worth it anymore.”
Underfashion World owner Kaylene Weier watched friends in similar situations lose their homes and “didn’t want to go through that” herself.
For some savvy business owners, the mall’s demise has been an opportunity to start something new.
Enticed by low rent, a hair and beauty salon has just moved into one of the heritage listed buildings that won’t be demolished in the redevelopment.
A refurbished furniture and homewares business owner jumped at the chance to open a store, making use of the council’s offer of free rent under the Activate Ipswich program.
Now a new bridal shop is rumoured to be moving into one of the CBD retail spaces left by a business moving out mid-January.
Meanwhile, the recently redeveloped ‘Top of Town’ is booming.
A new clothing boutique will open today next door to a fairly new home and giftwares shop which opened in October.
Further down the road is a new pizza shop which has already proven popular, a new beauty salon is a couple of doors down from that and tucked in behind the trendy Heisenberg Haus, is a coffee shop with its own Ipswich roast that opened earlier this year.
That district is likely to become more popular when construction on the new mall starts next year and parking becomes a nightmare.
The council has promised to replace the existing mall with a ‘world class’ food and
entertainment precinct worth $150 million.
When unveiling the plans earlier this month, Mayor Paul Pisasale likened the redevelopment to “a phoenix rising from the ashes”.
Construction will start mid-2017 and see the existing Ipswich City Square buildings demolished, the mall opened up to the river, and one-way traffic flow down Nicholas St for the first time in 30-years.