Plans for precinct revival faces further delay

Plans for precinct revival faces further delay

By Brendan Rees 

A highly-anticipated activation strategy “to bring back the buzz” to Docklands has faced a further delay with community and stakeholder consultation to occur later this year.

The strategy, commissioned by Development Victoria, was in response to the pandemic that has left half of the street-facing shops in Docklands either closed or vacant, making it the hardest-hit precinct in the municipality.  

The strategy is considered critical to the precinct’s roadmap to recovery, but ongoing delays with the draft report – which was originally due to be released in December 2020, before being pushed back to May – have left stakeholders frustrated.

Group Head of Precincts at Development Victoria, Geoff Ward, said his organisation was working closely with the City of Melbourne to “develop initiatives in the short-term” and have “committed to events and initiatives” this year.

While Mr Ward did not reveal why the report had been delayed, he said, “we are planning community and stakeholder consultation later this year, to help shape a long-term vision for the redevelopment of Central Pier and the precinct.”

“The activation strategy was undertaken to find opportunities to further activate Docklands and encourage people to visit the precinct and enjoy all it has to offer,” he said, adding “we will continue to identify future opportunities”.

“A redeveloped waterfront, including Central Pier, will help position Docklands as a key destination for visitors.”

A City of Melbourne spokesperson said, “the City of Melbourne supported Development Victoria on the development of its activation strategy for Docklands, the suburb most affected by COVID-19 in the municipality.”

“The strategy is guiding our combined efforts to bring back the buzz to Docklands through activations, events and other initiatives,” the spokesperson said.

“We continue to welcome feedback from Docklands residents and businesses in guiding our activation of the area.”

In April this year, Docklands News revealed that the strategy, which was conducted by events company Alto Cibum, was understood to have been signed off by Development Victoria, but a City of Melbourne spokesperson said the council wanted to ensure “additional measures” were included to help activate the precinct in the short term.

Jackie Watts, chair of Melbourne Maritime Heritage Network, which has made submissions to the strategy, said a new Maritime Experiential Centre would trigger a much-needed activation and visitation to Docklands.

“We’re happy to share our thinking but it’s a question of respectful response to major stakeholders,” she said.

“Good ideas are not what we need, we need the courage to implement some of them.”

According to one stakeholder, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Central Pier would be a “sticking point” in the strategy. 

It comes as the City of Melbourne revealed in its COVID-19 Reactivation and Recovery Plan in September last year that the reconstruction of Central Pier would be a “priority” infrastructure project and would “explore opportunities for water transport and tourism and a strategic feasibility study of a maritime heritage museum experience”.

A spokeswoman for the Victorian Tourism Industry Council (which was not engaged in the strategy) said a rethink was needed for major events in Melbourne to “attract more of a local market … because in the short to medium term that is going to be our audience”.

“We have to start working together as a collective, not finding solutions for this precinct or that precinct, but actually working together as a collective to build a better proposition,” the spokeswoman said.   

The pandemic has struck a heavy blow to Docklands with the president of the Docklands Chamber of Commerce, Johanna Maxwell, saying in the July that the precinct “was struggling like nowhere else in the country”.

The Firelight Festival was postponed due to the latest lockdown but in a welcome boost, the council’s FOMO Freebies campaign saw hundreds of Melburnians flock to Docklands while the Docklands Dollars initiative has also been a success •

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