Like many Townsville city retailers, Lucy Downes is eagerly looking forward to the opening of the city’s new $290 million stadium later this month.
- A new stadium, one kilometre from the Townsville CBD, is due to open this month
- City retailers, who are faced with ‘for lease’ signs and a lack of pedestrian traffic, hope it will mean an economic boost
- The Chamber of Commerce believes the stadium will be a catalyst for economic development in the city
One kilometre from the CBD, it is hoped the new home ground for NRL team the North Queensland Cowboys will bring an economic boost to the depressed city heart.
“It’s make or break now really. We are relying on the stadium to make a huge difference,” Ms Downes said.
Townsville’s main street, Flinders Street, was not always the patchwork of empty shop fronts and ‘for lease’ signs.
In the 1980s it was a bustling open air mall and thriving retail precinct that included a major department store.
However, as development spread to the suburbs, many retailers opted out of the city for air-conditioned shopping centres and the department store closed in 1993.
Flinders Street became increasingly run down over the following decades.
The street was refurbished and re-opened to traffic in 2011 but a number of shops had closed down for good by the time the three-year upgrade was completed.
Ms Downes said business had initially been good following the re-opening, but the last three or four years had been “the worst”.
She has laid off all five of her staff just to keep her business open.
“If [the stadium] doesn’t bring us the benefits and the rewards we are anticipating, I am very worried for the future of a lot of traders, including myself,” she said.
Stadium just one piece of CBD recovery puzzle
Cafe owner Mark McDonald is not convinced the stadium alone can reinvigorate the city.
He said the central business district needed a large drawcard retailer to attract shoppers, plus more parking, and rents that reflected the current economic situation.
“I feel that the CBD has died a death of a thousand cuts … I could fire a cannon up the main street and I won’t hit anyone,” he said.
Mr McDonald said he would trial opening late on event nights, even though he suspects his business will not get much of a boost from the stadium.
“I can’t sit here and complain if I’m not doing anything about it,” he said.
“I really hope that my colleagues in small business will get some overflow from the stadium.
“A lot of taxpayer money has gone into that [and] I think it would be a travesty if we don’t get some overflow.”
Defibrillator for city heart
Flinders Street hotel manager Paul Gray said while his guests did comment on the lack of things to do in the city centre, he was hopeful the stadium would restart the city’s heart.
“As we have seen in the last few years, with more ‘for lease’ signs coming up there is less and less to see on Flinders Street,” Mr Gray said.
“When there is less business activity and less shops open on the main street, we do tend to see an increase in antisocial behaviour going on.
“If a culture can be built where people get out before the game, they walk along the street and stop at a few points on the way to the stadium, there is some potential for businesses to do better.”
Stadium a catalyst for change of culture, economy
President of the Townsville Chamber of Commerce, Michele Falconieri, believes the stadium will be a catalyst for economic development and cultural change in Townsville and adjacent regions.
He said there had already been more movement in commercial properties ahead of the venue’s opening this month.
Mr Falconieri believes the venue will foster connectivity between the city’s Strand foreshore, Palmer Street restaurant precinct, and CBD if people were willing to embrace cultural change.
“Some people are concerned about having to walk and not just be able to park out the front but, that is what we are talking about — a change of culture here.”
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