01/06/2021 - 15:00

Leederville to mix identity and density

01/06/2021 - 15:00

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A plan to accommodate density with more than 350 apartments could help revive Leederville’s popular village strip, while protecting its identity.

Leederville to mix identity and density
Emma Cole on the Oxford Street cafe strip. Photos: David Henry

Leederville’s Oxford Street has more than its share of for-lease signs dotted among its retail and hospitality tenants.

As happened along most suburban shopping and entertainment strips, operators in Leederville took a hit during COVID-19, and many have been unable to bounce back.

The latest casualty, announced earlier this month, was popular cafe Greens & Co, which closed months after fellow hospitality operator Theo & Co. Pizzeria, just a few doors down, filed an application to wind-up its business.

Ray White Commercial WA senior commercial property adviser Brett Wilkins said the combination of rising rents as a result of previously low vacancies, and COVID-19, had created the perfect storm for the embattled retail strip.

“There is no doubt that Oxford Street has been outperformed by many other competitive strips,” Mr Wilkins told Business News.

“In September 2017, we recorded a zero vacancy for the strip, but this has progressively increased to 14.63 per cent and 10 vacant shops in 2020, and I am expecting the 2021 results to be worse again.”

Those statistics were highlighted in Ray White’s annual Between The Lines – Perth Retail Strips report, released late last year.

The report noted how Leederville’s Oxford Street had yielded the most notable results in comparison to other popular Perth suburban strips, including Beaufort Street, Rokeby Road, Bay View Terrace and Napoleon Street.

Oxford Street has about 47 shopfronts, 10 of which were vacant in late 2020 (the highest level of vacancy recorded by Ray White over the past four years).

Cafes and restaurants, as well as services, make up the bulk of Oxford Street’s tenancy mix, with the report pointing to how COVID-19 had accelerated the declining trend of clothing retail tenants along the strip.

The Ray White report also highlighted how there had been no sales or leasing transactions along Oxford Street for the 12 months to November 2020: many landlords had grappled with retaining existing tenants, while navigating the hardships of rent reductions.

City of Vincent Mayor Emma Cole remains optimistic, however, telling Business News she believes the slump will be short-lived and that Leederville is receiving a great deal of interest from developers that recognise its potential.

In the wake of the pandemic, Ms Cole said the council had been working with local businesses to facilitate the construction of temporary alfresco spaces, remove red tape, expedite change-of-use applications, and enhance the cafe strip.

“We want to see vacancies filled as soon as possible because it is important to the vibrancy of the street, but we do understand that COVID-19 has had an impact,” she said.

“We do reach out to landlords when we see these issues and offer to do what we can, because we do not like to see long rows of vacancies … nothing can replace an open shopfront with people coming and going.

“We see huge potential for Greens [& Co] and I’m very confident that this is just a moment in time.”

Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic and the discussion around empty shopfronts, Pinchos owner-chef Justin Bell said Leederville remained the best place to do business.

“We’ve had our ups and downs over the past year, but we’re here and we’re busy,” Mr Bell told Business News.

“We’re fortunate to have a local government that is forward-thinking, that sits down with us and wants to get stuff done.”

Emma Cole with Justin Bell. 

Ray White’s Mr Wilkins said he, too, believed the Oxford Street retail strip would start to turn around with the improving WA economy, the completion of the ABN development, and landlords meeting the market.

“Council should continue to push development in the area such as ABN’s new offices,” he said.

“The council owns some prime development sites as well as Water Corporation that should be unlocked.”

Planning

Unlocking part of the Water Corporation site, located at 40 Frame Court, forms part of the City of Vincent’s vision for Leederville.

The Water Corporation signed a five-year lease to occupy the 4,306 square metre site (which is privately owned) in December 2017.

Under the agreement there is a break clause that enables flexibility to develop the site, which is owned by EG Funds. 

The city released its new Precinct Structure Plan last week, outlining plans to place the largest concentration of density development within the Water Corporation site, enabling heights of 18 storeys, with potential for up to 23 storeys, determined on a case-by-case basis.

That site fronts Loftus Street and a car park, located far from Leederville’s existing single- and two-storey residential dwellings, a decision Ms Cole said was made to focus density development within the dedicated Leederville Activity Centre zone. Under the new plan, buildings of up to 10 storeys could also take shape along Carr Place, Vincent Street and Newcastle Street, home to existing commercial and hospitality businesses, with several multi-storey apartment developments already under way.

The Leederville Precinct Structure Plan. 

By concentrating the density in these areas, Ms Cole said the city hoped to preserve Leederville’s village character, with the Precinct Structure Plan outlining maximum heights of two levels (with potential provisions for three levels) along Oxford Street.

That height limit extends to up to five storeys beyond Luna Cinemas and at the intersection of Richmond Street.

Ms Cole said the precinct plan had been developed with the intention of balancing the need to increase density and help the town centre thrive, while respecting Leederville’s character and low-scale cafe strip.

She said the city had been on the front foot with community consultation on the proposed changes, acknowledging that increasing density and height limits had proved contentious for local governments.

“People love Leederville as it is; it’s got character, it’s a bit gritty, it’s diverse and it’s welcoming and we don’t want to change that,” Ms Cole said.

“Council has been pushing really hard for this document to be completed because developers can already see the potential of Leederville, and that’s being reflected in the applications we’re seeing come through.

“We [council] knew we needed to take control and undertake consultation around where that density occurs and make sure our community is onboard with this direction.

“At the moment, we probably max out at 10 storeys, but we’re talking about height limits in areas allocated to high density of 18 storeys, so this is quite substantial.”

The city had already undertaken early consultation to determine how the community felt about the changes, she said, with most having been well received.

“We have tested this out through early consultation with the community and asking locals: ‘If we’re going to have increased density, where should it go?’ she said.

“Our community has been really understanding.

“They know that it can be done right, that you can increase density in certain areas and retain lower-scale development where it matters, and they seem to be onboard with that.

“This is a step up for us, though, and there still might be a reaction to this development.

“But if you have a planning document that clarifies that increased density would only ever be considered in certain areas and if it meets certain criteria, then you can sort of assure the community that it’s not going to pop up on their corner.”

Project pipeline

ABN’s new four-storey headquarters on Vincent Street is expected to open by mid-June, with the building company set to shift more than 800 of its employees into Leederville.

Developed by Hesperia (formerly Fini Group and Linc Property), the ABN headquarters will integrate with a new laneway, designed to connect with the Leederville Hotel revamp: a project led by Adrian Fini’s other property entity FJM Property, due for completion later this year.

Named Electric Lane, the new laneway provides the opportunity to create a number of new commercial tenancies.

Electric Lane. 

“The laneway represents the opportunity to bring people together through retail, hospitality and entertainment,” Hesperia managing director Ben Lisle said.

“When planning the laneway, we worked with Oclus, a worldrenowned landscape architecture firm, drawing inspiration from laneway precincts across the world, in particular Melbourne’s Guildford Lane.”

Ms Cole said council was hopeful the laneway project and influx of ABN staff would have an immediate, positive impact on local businesses.

Long term, a series of residential developments could further help to sustain Leederville’s retail and entertainment strip. Construction is under way at Megara’s $15 million The Foundry apartments, located down the road from the Leederville Hotel.

Located at 636-640 Newcastle Street, the eight-storey building will house 30 apartments as well as commercial tenancies.

Megara director Jamie Clarke said Leederville ticked all the boxes from a developer’s perspective, with its proximity to the CBD, easy access to road and public transport links, and its existing hospitality offering.

Megara's The Foundry development. 

Megara’s apartments add to a pipeline of more than 350 apartments planned in and around Leederville’s town centre.

Three developments are planned for Carr Place, just off Oxford Street.

That includes two projects that have already received planning approval: a five-storey 14-apartment complex, at 212 and a nine-storey 52-apartment residential complex at 194-200, as well as a nine-townhouse project spanning two storeys planned for 179, with a development application now under assessment.

Targeting construction completion in early 2022, Griffin Group has plans for a three-storey apartment building at 187-189 Loftus Street, named Loft Haus Leederville, comprising 13 apartments and two penthouses. And George on Vincent, a nine-storey 32-apartment project, is planned for 289-295 Vincent Street, with expected completion in 2023.

Meanwhile, a Local Development Plan application has been submitted to the City of Vincent and is now under assessment, which would enable a mixed-use project including commercial tenancies as well as approximately 250 apartments, with towers up to 25 storeys proposed for the Water Corporation site.

The former Midway Taxi site at 387 Oxford Street could provide another development opportunity.

Real estate agency Burgess Rawson brokered the sale of the 2,914 square metre land holding earlier this year and said it had been sold to a private international investor.

The site had been owned by the same family for almost 35 years and was rezoned as a district centre, allowing for future development scope for a multi-storey building.

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