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Makeover for the Mid-West

AFTER years of lacklustre growth and playing second fiddle to southern regional centres, the Mid-West regional city of Geraldton is experiencing a change in fortunes. And investors are beginning to take note.

The rosy outlook for Geraldton and the Mid-West has been driven by an injection of more than $300 million of public funding for infrastructure, a future city foreshore makeover and affordable land values. As a result, private investment in the region has increased dramatic-ally.

A victim of the downturn in a number of primary industries, Geraldton has been in the economic doldrums for the past seven years. Capital growth has lagged well behind regional centres such as Albany and Bunbury, and many local businesses have been pushed to the wall.

After a coordinated lobby by local government, government bodies and local organisations the region has managed to attract an unprecedented amount of State Government funding. Over the next few years the Batavia Coast centre will undergo a comprehensive makeover with new services, new infrastructure and a new look.

Major projects, planned and completed, include the $100 million Geraldton Port upgrade, the $88 million Southern Transport Corridor development, the $43 million Mt Magnet-Leinster Road upgrade, a $35 million hospital redevelopment, a $13.5 million foreshore redevelopment and CBD revitalisation, and a $25 million five-star hotel resort.

Also new to the city are a museum, the Batavia Coast Marina and the HMAS Sydney Memorial. Two marine education centres are planned.

There are several proposals for wind farms on the cards, including the $60 million Western Power, Enercon and Powercorp joint venture Mumbida Wind Farm. Gerald-ton is also vying to be the host location of the world’s largest radio telescope, the $1 billion SKA radio-astronomy project.

The completion of the Indian Ocean Drive, opening up the Mid-West coast all the way to Geraldton, will be finished in mid 2005.

The mining industry has been quick to take advantage of the port upgrade and the new link to the coast from the northern Goldfields. Several mining companies, including Mount Gibson Iron and Magellan Metals, are planning to export through Geraldton rather than Perth.

On the back of the increased revenue predicted to flow through the port and the city’s tourism potential, city property development has increased in activity.

Mid-West Development Commission principal project manager Steve Douglas said the number of developments occurring in the new Batavia Coast Marina had risen during the past 12 months.

Mr Douglas said several multi-level residential developments had been pre-sold, which was unusual for the Geraldton market.

“For astute investors around Australia, Geraldton is well priced and great value,” he said.

“We haven’t had that capital gains growth that has been experienced by other centres like Perth, Albany or Bunbury.”

Geraldton, with its affordable coastal property compared with the south, was becoming an attractive option in the retiree market, he said.

Local property developer Barry Humfrey said he had sold as much in the March period as he had in the past 12 months and inquiries for investment in Geraldton had lifted dramatically.

“In the last couple of months things have really turned around for Geraldton,” he said.

Mr Humfrey said after five to six years of “doom and gloom”, local business people began to smile as soon as they heard the State Government had committed to deepening the Geraldton Port.

“We can’t build houses quickly enough – we can’t even get our display homes finished,” he told WA Business News.

Mr Humfrey said as well as the retiree market, which was turning away from the overpriced southern market and looking to northern coastal land, many of his buyers were investors from the eastern States.

“They can’t believe how cheap it is in Geraldton. For under $250,000 you can get ocean views,” he said.

The foreshore development would create a completely different face for the city, Mr Humfrey said, and enable the town to turn around and face the water and have a protected city beach.

“It is hard to envisage so much happening in one town, but it is,” he said.

“We’ve got cinemas, theatres, museums, all this stuff that has happened in the last couple of years.

“The opening for investors is huge, absolutely huge.”

Perth investor Anthony Torre recently purchased Geraldton’s only high rise office tower, Town Towers, and plans to conduct a major refurbishment of the building.

Listing agent Professionals Commercial and General Real Estate managing director Corrada Cusma said Perth investors were showing more interest in Geraldton as a result of the major infrastructure developments.

“Mr Torre plans to undertake a major modernisation of the Town Towers, which was originally constructed in 1975,” Mr Cusma said. “In many ways this investment in this landmark building is a major vote of confidence in the future commercial development of the Geraldton area, which will require upgraded office and commercial facilities as a result of the major infrastructure projects in the area.”

City of Geraldton mayor Vickie Peterson said she expected to see an increase of private investment in accommodation developments, conference facilities and industrial estates.

Land in Geraldton was currently great value for money, she said, and now was a good time for investment.

“I think we will have a period of growth for the next five to 10 years,” Mrs Peterson said.

Roy Weston Geraldton Real Estate principal Stuart Walls said the market had lifted in the past four to five months, however it was coming from a considerably low base.

While the bulk of his buyers were still local, he said he recently had a number of direct sales over the Internet from eastern States buyers.

“Geraldton has gone through a negative phase. Now people can see things are starting to happen,” Mr Walls said.

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