Land deal seen as new life for CBD

PLANS to transform Newcastle’s dying CBD into a residential, commercial and speciality retail precinct would help create a ‘‘dynamic’’ future and reinvent the city, civic and business leaders said yesterday.

Terms of a contract, under which Landcom would buy two-thirds of the GPT Group city centre property holdings and team with it to redevelop four city blocks in a major Hunter Street precinct transformation, were close to completion last night and could be signed this morning.

Hunter Street business owners cautiously welcomed news of the deal yesterday, while the Hunter Business Chamber described it as the sort of collaboration the city had been waiting for.

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It is understood redeveloping the site bound by Perkins, King, Newcomen and Hunter streets, would place a greater focus on residential projects.

Political sources said the new project was expected to enhance the business case for a city interchange with retail space, as part of potential transport changes.

It comes about three years after GPT walked away from a $600million retail redevelopment of the mall, citing the former Labor government’s failure to commit to removing the inner-city rail line.

Planning Minister Brad Hazzard confirmed he was still considering the issue of the Newcastle rail line despite the deal going ahead.

‘‘It’s great that GPT and Landcom have taken the initiative and have faith in Newcastle,’’ he said.

‘‘The government 100per cent supports any steps that show Newcastle is a much-loved city with great potential.

‘‘I was recently reminded [the review work] was started under Labor 20 years ago, and in only 15 months we are one heck of a lot further advanced than they ever were.’’

Hunter Business Chamber chief executive Kristen Keegan said transit-oriented development could work, depending on the model.

‘‘It’s never been any secret [that] from business’s point of view, we believe urban renewal needs to drive transport, not the other way around,’’ Ms Keegan said.

‘‘We need something that has the capacity to grow and be flexible whatever form that may be. We want to see the [rail] corridor preserved, not developed.’’

She also advocated including affordable residential development in the mix.

Newcastle City Council pledged to work with Landcom and the GPT Group to achieve ‘‘a good outcome for the city’’.

Council general manager Phil Pearce said the inner-city’s changing face also included plans to relocate the state courthouse to the civic precinct and establish a university campus.

‘‘I think it’s quite dynamic,’’ Mr Pearce said.

In recent months, developers and property owners have pushed residential plans in the mall and Newcastle’s east end as demand for office space disappears across the rail line towards Honeysuckle.

At least four recent development applications have asked to convert ageing Hunter Street office space into bedsits or units.

Mr Pearce said the council had held discussions with GPT and Landcom in recent months, but could not comment on whether plans involved the council-owned carpark on King Street.

The carpark site was a key part of GPT’s original plans for the city, but is not for sale by expressions-of-interest.

Newcastle lord mayor John Tate said he hoped it would form part of the eventual development.

‘‘This is good news, there’s no doubt about that,’’ he said.

Caution after being malled before

HUNTER Street Mall shoppers and business owners have been let down before, and many were cautious about being optimistic about the latest deal struck to revive the CBD strip.

Newsagent Mick Drew, from the Mall Newsagency, said he’d heard about grand plans ‘‘a few times before’’.

Mr Drew’s business is in a building owned by Newcastle City Council and is not likely to be part of any redevelopment.

But shops on both sides of Hunter Street have been crying out for something to rejuvenate the struggling strip after the withdrawal of David Jones and the collapse of GPT’s $600million commercial development.

‘‘I really hope it does happen,’’ Mr Drew said.

‘‘But I’m not getting excited about anything until they start digging.’’

Next door at Betta Shoe Repairs, Jenny Sfeir said customers had dropped off in recent years.

‘‘We hope it comes to fruition,’’ Ms Sfeir said.

‘‘What’s [in the city] is good. We need to bring people back in here.’’

Shoppers agreed that new businesses would attract new customers into the mall.

Steve Mandaric, who works in the inner city, said he only visited the mall during his lunch break.

‘‘There’s nothing to bring people here at other times,’’ Mr Mandaric said.

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