AS in so many things, strength in retail is in numbers and contrary to appearances, the number of operating shops in central Fremantle is proportionately increasing – but only due to shop numbers decreasing. The solution to the CBD’s retail vacancy rate has been revealed: demolish. Please explain!

Well, with the levelling of the “Point Street” site, corner of Adelaide Street and the current reshaping of Atwell Building and Arcade, there are currently about twenty-four shops fewer to count, many formerly – well, overlooked. Should new shops replace them? “No”, is the immediate response. Yes, more retail strength would be most desirable, however building a new shop does not necessarily guarantee a built-in tenant, which anyway could represent more competition, while alternatively new shops in planned developments for the CBD could encourage inter-shop swings and roundabouts old to new, leaving one deserted.

Although High Street Mall ones will have to be reinstated, tenanting them with quality retailers will prove a difficult exercise. Finding a major attractor not already represented at nearest centres is a considerable challenge. In the clearly changed Fremantle shops situation, just as it is not so much a situation of too high rents but rather of too few customers, now there are not so much too many vacancies, but too many shops. Despite those recently removed premises the actual percentage of vacancies is still disappointing. An addition to the new retail reality is the burgeoning number of central city’s cafe, bar and restaurant temptations plateau-ing toward unsustainability. Ways have to be found to draw regular custom from beyond the present horizon.

For too long Fremantle has seen itself as competing with other centres, while the gravitational pull of those now immense and growing centres, notably Garden City and Gateways, has drawn traders and customers away. Claremont Quarter is of some concern, but less directly. Even the once-threatening Phoenix Centre is being denuded and shows signs of slipping into victim-hood. Fremantle is not in competition, it should recognise it has not been for a long time and should stop trying; it is itself and has its own unique offer and must concentrate on that. Driven by the debilitated look of the Mall, the town hall has been moved to set up discussions with property owners in the centre and it is to be hoped reality will prevail in negotiations to make those properties more attractive to tenants and to the public.

Mayor Brad Pettitt has been making efforts to consult and to expedite that, along with Economic Development and Marketing – Manager Tom Griffiths. Finally, the town hall may be activating. Distance is not a great consideration when a shopping centre contains a vast range of attractions and is therefore a destination in itself and Fremantle’s supporting population catchment is shrinking because of that. Under amalgamation, citizenship numbers will be increased but people will not be moved closer.

Fremantle Central is a naturally air-conditioned shopping, services and entertainment centre with location, facilities and attractions others envy and that cannot be duplicated elsewhere. Therein lie the primary strengths and focus which must be developed and promoted, but quickly.

by Colin Nichol


RECENT reports referring to Rokeby Road Subiaco and Claremont Quarter taking business from Fremantle is surely another case of ‘passing the buck’, or blame-shifting. How does that relate to Fremantle’s trading woes?

Try tootling up to Claremont for a little disposable income splashing-out and you will find it’s not a journey you would want to make more than occasionally; it’s an excursion and the traffic situation is no encouragement. Subiaco is even further away.

Alternatively, the cause of the city’s woes, according to one source is the “Dowson Effect”. They may as well call it the (Les) “Lauder Effect” or the “Fremantle Society Effect” – the power of a lot of people. Suddenly, it’s all over the media that Fremantle is in trouble and everyone is deflecting responsibility and running for cover.

Warnings have been sounded for years; check back on local papers. But there may be a double dichotomy here, are we discussing sins of commission or of omission and is Fremantle losing businesses, or business (customers), or is it all of the above?

Perhaps that explains why Claremont and Subiaco are being brought into the argument; that is, the claim they may be taking customers from Fremantle. Unlikely. At the risk of trivializing a serious matter, that’s a chicken and egg situation. That they may be taking some businesses away is possible, but ‘why’ is the core of the matter.

The answer has to be that fewer customers are being attracted to central Fremantle for dry goods while the flagship food and beverage areas are holding in, but are close to the line and there have been significant closures recently.

While customer numbers for them still look good superficially, the average spend is way down – as much as half. A new take-away is likely to add to the pressure. Many businesses are cutting back while putting their hopes on the forthcoming Perth 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships.

Back to Subiaco and Claremont. Their woes have been publicly expressed in newspaper spreads in recent weeks. A raw expression of this is in their shop windows. The red ‘sale’ signs are everywhere: 50% off is common and in some cases, as much as 70%. Not much to envy there. Yes, new Claremont quarter, that glamorous concourse is still fully tenanted, but wait ’til rent review time.

Meanwhile, on Bay View Terrace itself, there are seven vacant street-level premises and twelve nearby. Rokeby Road has five, with ten adjacent, not including the long-closed Subiaco Pavilion or the rows upon rows, at very least 30, ‘for lease’ signs in immediate surrounding buildings. Subiaco’s parking situation has always been a problem and has to be controlled with metering, but there is little problem at Claremont where a vast concourse of free parking provides up to three hours at the Quarter, with more provided by private operators and council. That council is to spend $3.5 million on upgrading the shopping strip. Perhaps, instead of blaming, Fremantle should copy them?


As a still wet behind the ears President of the Fremantle Society I thank Bryden Dalitz for his Thinking Allowed (Fremantle Herald 4-12-10) because it gives me a perfect opportunity to respond.  I make no apologies for the effectiveness of Fremantle’s peak heritage lobby group, the Fremantle Society, we are good at what we do; perhaps Bryden could look closer to home and lay some blame for “economic growth being severely lacking” at the feet of the business lobby group for whom he works and question why the Chamber of Commerce has not achieved similar success.  Bryden sends mixed messages berating the heritage lobby for their recent work but complimenting us by telling readers; “..citizens of Fremantle should be grateful to groups who went against the zeitgeist of decades past and prevented many wonderful and iconic buildings that characterise Fremantle from being destroyed.”  A case of wisdom in hindsight …..

Bryden sings the praises of ING’s Victoria Quay proposal, whilst criticising opposition to it.  I argue a large box shopping centre with multi-storey carpark is not the highest and best use for Victoria Quay, it would not “bring people to the West End“; they would drive past local businesses to park, shop and leave, as at Bondi Central in Sydney and Harbourtown in West Perth.  But of course ING did get planning approval, but then chose to do nothing until their approval is close to lapsing.

Similarly, Council recently granted a third 2 year approval for a heritage building in the West End which remains boarded up rather than adding to Fremantle’s vibrancy.  I must here mention Fremantle’s biggest disgrace, the Cantonment Street woolstores which Council granted development approval over 4 years ago, yet nothing has been done, effectively stifling that end of town.

Bryden, it’s not groups trying to protect our assets, our point of difference, our heritage, that holds Fremantle back, but owners of significant sites and buildings allowing them to disintegrate along with Fremantle by land-banking instead of developing, maintaining and even using these assets.

Enjoy your trip to Melbourne and when you are in hip Lygon or Acland Streets check out the buildings, you will find low rise heritage, like Fremantle’s West End.  Go to Sydney and check out Paddington, travel the world, I bet you come back to Fremantle.

Jon Strachan    9-12-2010