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New confidence for Harbour Town

05 Feb 2015

New confidence for Harbour Town Image

There’s a fresh breeze of confidence blowing through Harbour Town Shopping Centre since new owners Ashe Morgan settled the purchase from ING Real Estate in December.

The deal ends a decade of involvement by ING in Docklands, with Ashe Morgan now responsible for the rest of the undeveloped land in the Waterfront City precinct.

The Sydney-based private investment company has taken on nearly 10 ha, including the Icehouse and the 40,000sqm shopping centre.  The Melbourne Star Observation Wheel is on its own title and has separate ownership.

Of course, for many Harbour Town retailers, the change of ownership has come too late, with many closing their doors during the five-year observation wheel reconstruction period.

But, for the survivors, a new owner with a passion, know-how and will to make the centre succeed is a welcomed tonic.

Restaurateur John Dimos said he was excited by what he knew of the new owners’ plans.

“I can look ahead and see a time when families will come to Harbour Town and spend a whole day here,” he said. “I’ve already had a little taste of that.”

Ashe Morgan principal Alton Abrahams explained that his company had both short-term and long-term plans for Waterfront City, with the first task being the revitalisation of Harbour Town.

He said the keys to making the shopping centre a destination were:  entertainment, food, great new tenants and sound management.

“Because of the internet, people don’t have to go out to shop, so you’ve got to give them another reason to go out to shop,” Mr Abrahams said.

“You’ve got to give them an experience.  So here we’ve already got the wheel, the ice rink and a couple of other entertainment uses.  And people like to go out to eat, so food is going to be a big focus of ours.”

Mr Abrahams said new key staff – general manager Steve Beaumont and marketing director Rita Simonetta – were the best in their field.

“The fact that Steve and Rita can also see the potential of this centre gives us great confidence for the future,” Mr Abrahams said.

Ms Simonetta said she was attracted to the role by Ashe Morgan’s commitment to make it work.

“For me, the long and the short of it is about Ashe Morgan wanting to spend significant capital funds improving the asset,” Ms Simonetta said.

Mr Abrahams said plans were already progressed on roofing part of the centre for weather protection and “serious money” was going to be spent on a total overhaul of the centre’s “ambiance”.

“We’re looking for value retailers as well as lifestyle retailers.  And we want more national and international brands,” he said.  “We’ve done a couple of deals with some of the existing brands to expand. We’re looking for better operators as well as to move on some of the weaker operators.”

Mr Abrahams said Ashe Morgan was attracted to Harbour Town because of its location, the build-value of its assets and the yet-to-be-realised potential of Docklands.

He drew a parallel with Darling Harbour in Sydney which, in its early days, suffered a similar negative public image to Docklands but which turned around in time.

“Docklands will evolve and the negative attitudes will dissipate,” he said.

Mr Abrahams said he was personally excited by the opportunity to make Harbour Town work.

“Someone’s spent hundreds of millions of dollars putting a whole lot of infrastructure here, which you couldn’t do if you were starting out today,” he said. “The bones of what is here is amazing.”

“We’ve got 40,000 sqm of retail space over two levels.  We’ve got an ice rink.  There’s the wheel.  We’re on the doorstep to the CBD, which is going through a massive residential expansion,” he said.

“We’ve got 2880 car spaces and we’re on the free tram line. We have massive infrastructure here, so there’s enormous potential.”

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