Signs of life for Hunter Street Mall

NEW signs of life are emerging in the Hunter Street Mall, as on-again off-again owner GPT begins filling vacant shops and offices with new tenants.

GPT and Newcastle MP Tim Owen gave strong indications yesterday that the company would also consider a new development plan for the city’s ailing CBD if the state government decided to cut the inner-city rail line.

A spokeswoman for the property and retail giant said GPT had decided ‘‘to keep the mall as active as we can’’ after the proposed sale to Nathan Tinkler-backed developer Buildev collapsed last year.

The first ‘‘Done Deal’’ sign went up this week when Sydney-based vintage clothing store CREAM agreed to open a branch in the inner-city.

The Market Square food court was scheduled to close last August, but two tenants stayed open and several new lunch outlets were poised to follow.

GPT has hired Newcastle-based Towers Property to fill 15 shopfronts, 11 empty commercial offices and four food court shops.

The Tinkler deal’s collapse forced a significant change of tack from GPT.

Shops had previously been kept vacant in the hope of selling the entire site to a developer. Establishing new tenants is likely to better support the piece-by-piece sale of the properties to investors.

Some parts of the mall have already been sold, including a building at the western end that will become a medical practice.

The GPT spokeswoman said filling shopfronts would support plans ‘‘to divest our assets [in Newcastle]’’.

But rumours persist about the revival of major development plans in some form.

GPT said yesterday it would not revisit the $600 million retail development abandoned in 2010, but would consider its options if the inner-city rail line were removed.

The rail line was cited as the main reason the company withdrew from its original development plans.

‘‘We’re interested in negotiating with parties to see the complete footprint [of the mall site] progress,’’ the spokeswoman said.

Newcastle MP Tim Owen said he had spoken with GPT on an ongoing basis since his election last year.

He believed the company was ‘‘keen to look at opportunities in the mall once that decision is made, if we make the decision [to cut the rail line]’’.

‘‘They see how [the government has] been going and they can see a lot of potential,’’ Mr Owen said.

The original development plan included the site of the King Street parking station owned by Newcastle City Council, which has recently put the crumbling car park on the market.

Lord mayor John Tate said yesterday he was concerned that selling the site could affect the prospect for future development.

‘‘If council sells that parking station it’s another stake through the heart of the GPT development,’’ he said.

Bagga’s Pharmacy manager Trudi Byrnes said high-quality and permanent tenants were needed for the mall, not more discount outlets.

‘‘They need to look at what we need in the city,’’ Ms Byrnes said.

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