George Flack wants a mall rethink. Photo digitally enhanced. Inset: Andrew Quin on Lost Bendigo & District.

COUNCILLOR George Flack wants a return to the days of traffic and parking the length of Hargreaves Street.

He is unconvinced the latest suite of ideas to reinvigorate Hargreaves Mall will work.

A year of meetings asking for ideas from retailers, shoppers, retail consultants, social welfare groups, the police and urban designers has culminated in council’s Transforming the City Centre Action Plan.

That has failed to sway Cr Flack, who describes malls worldwide, and the work to reactivate them, as “dinosaur-age innovation”.

Cr Flack was clear about his ideas for Hargreaves Mall when he stood for council in 2016, telling the Bendigo Weekly at the time he wanted to see the central retail street reopened to traffic.

He said yesterday he believed a calendar of activities and events at the mall would fail to draw people unless something was happening all the time.

One-off events would not bring people back to the mall in numbers that would sustain retailers.

But increasing access by allowing one-way traffic from Williamson Street to Mitchell Street and creating disabled parking bays in between, along with redevelopment of laneways connecting to Pall Mall and Mitchell Street, would have more success than “present solutions on offer that simply don’t work”.

“Until we take some positive steps to abolish the dinosaur-age innovation and get on with life, open the mall up to handicapped parking… and vehicle access… it may prompt a lowering of the antisocial behaviour that is going on at the moment,” Mr Flack said.

But it would limit the amount of activity that could occur in Bendigo, mayor Margaret O’Rourke argued, listing the mall and Sidney Myer Place as the two areas left in the city centre that could host public events such as markets.

Cr O’Rourke said yesterday it was becoming more difficult to close roads for events.

“If you put a road through, you can’t take it back,”she said.

“Road closures are becoming more difficult to do, there are a lot of hoops to jump through when we do events like the Bendigo Easter Fair and White Night, and that has come about because of Bourke Street and other things.

“Everyone has got a solution for the CBD of Bendigo but I think the underlying thing people need to understand is the retail model has changed… it has changed the way city centres operate, and we are trying to find our way through that.”

The plan tabled by councillors on Wednesday night includes remedies that add colour, softness and shade to the mall, using infrastructure that is already there.

The suggestion is the maligned bus shelter at Mitchell Street could house pop-up food stalls and the obelisks containing toilets could become small shops.

The plan also addresses the future of Myer as an anchor retail presence, referring to a proposal to redevelop the building as a hotel with Myer as the retail tenant.

At Wednesday night’s council meeting, Cr Matt Emond said there were examples of Cairns where the area reserved for pedestrians was popular for recreation and for its nightlife.

Cr Emond said Hardware Lane in Melbourne was another example of a pedestrian area that worked.

“I can remember as a kid walking up Hargreaves Street with my grandmother, we had lunch at Coles cafeteria before the mall was even built and there has been a lot of changes since the 80s,” he said.

“But I do think there is opportunity and there is more than a mall, what we have, as the trees have grown, it is becoming a gathering place.”

Cr Flack refers to Middletown, Ohio, which he visited many times and where the municipality dug up the mall in 2001 and returned it to a road.

The change put the heart back into central Middletown, Cr Flack said, which like Bendigo was competing with suburban malls.

Cr Flack said he asked for and was given Middletown’s demolition plans which he passed on to the City of Greater Bendigo’s chief executive at the time, the late John McLean.

“He simply binned the plans and continued to pour upwards of $8.5 million into what is the present shambles with high rents, less shops, an unsavoury mix of socially displaced and void of shopping options,” he said.

– Sharon Kemp