Reinventing Gosford: a real estate perspective

Chapman Frazer's Rob Wilcox explains why real estate agents should support empty spaces initiatives. 

What does Gosford have in common with Madonna?  Rob Wilcox

They have both had to continually reinvent themselves over the years.

The opening of two large shopping centres - Erina Fair in 1987 and Tuggerah Westfield in 1995 - resulted in Gosford CBD losing its sense of vibrancy, as retail and services from grocery outlets to chain brands relocated out of the area, leaving behind a glut of empty shops. 

Add high youth unemployment, crime, vandalism and the clustering of social service delivery centres for the Central Coast into the mix and it is hard to imagine the prospect of a thriving community. 

Create Innovate Gosford City 

But in 2005 local leaders launched the Gosford Challenge with the aim of revitalising and developing the town. Under the auspices of the Gosford Business Improvement District, Create, Innovate Gosford City was established last year as a 'meanwhile' project to place temporary 'tenants' in the empty shops in the CBD to liven up the area. 

The plan was to attract artists and those working in creative industries to occupy the empty properties on a 30-day rolling licence developed by nearby Renew Newcastle. 

When Rob Wilcox, licensee at Chapman Frazer Real Estate, was invited to join the steering committee of Create Innovate Gosford City in 2010, he immediately saw the benefits of such an enterprise. 

"I agreed that it was more positive to dress up the shops instead of having them vacant, to make the town look better," he says. "As a leasing agent, my job is to rent the properties, and a shop generally looks a lot better with a good tenant in it rather than standing empty." 

There are currently three projects operating in the CBD: Honeydew Gallery, an artist collective where they take pieces on consignment; the Bowerbird Project, which is all about upcycling, refreshing and renewing furniture pieces, fabrics and other items; and  Somers McDonell Gallery, which showcases Gabrielle Somers' artworks with regular exhibitions from local artists.   

Rob - who manages and leases many of the retail properties in the CBD - is the letting agent for these three shops, which are all located in the Wong Building, on the corner of Mann and Donnison Streets. Three more shops are awaiting temporary tenants. 

Rob says the major challenges are bringing landlords on board with the scheme as well as attracting temporary tenants. 

"Gosford is struggling with retail tenancies in the main street. There are too many shops to lease. There's one we haven't leased in two years," he says. "Some of the landlords are very positive, while others don't want to be bothered. Trying to attract the right people to take on these temporary tenancies has been an issue too. There needs to be more publicity." 

To date, temporary projects housed in the empty properties have been predominantly artists, and while Rob agrees that they have brightened up the shops, he says the main street needs businesses that "think outside the square". 

"If we want to go back to retail I'd like to see more speciality shops come into town such as a men's clothing shop. And a gift shop would be very welcome in the main street." Honeydew Gallery

What's involved? 

The main commitment required from real estate agents in regards to empty spaces schemes is time. 

"Create Innovate Gosford City comes along and asks if the landlord of an empty shop is willing to have a short-term tenant or short-term display. We then quickly identify which shops are available and it's matched with someone who wants the shop," says Rob. 

"If someone wants to do it, we explore the possibilities, take the potential temporary tenant to the shop to show them around. It works out at around two to three hours per tenant." 

Rob's initial concerns were about plate glass insurance and the need for a licence agreement ensuring the artists take proper care of a property. It was agreed that artists would pay for the plate glass insurance, and Rob was happy with the flexibility of the 30-day rolling licence. 

"We like to have a say in what tenants use the properties - we don't want someone going in who will destroy the property but Create Innovate Gosford City are generally bringing it artist-run shops which is good. If it were going to be a junk store then we'd counsel against that," he says. 

Feedback and outcomes 

While there are no direct financial advantages to real estate agents in letting to temporary tenants, benefits to the community and potentially to landlords are clear. 

"The Create Innovate Gosford City scheme has lifted some of the dead areas we've had in town and made them look a whole lot better," says Rob. "We haven't yet achieved commercial tenants but we've been able to take away the hoardings. It makes the town look busier rather than vacant. It's not profitable for our firm but in the bigger scheme of things it could help the town so maybe we'll get the benefit in the longer term. 

"I'd encourage other commercial real estate agents to engage with empty spaces initiatives. It dresses up the shops, beautifies the town and benefits everyone. You only need to invest a minimal amount of time - it's worth doing." 

Read a case study about the setting up of Create Innovate Gosford City by UTS researcher Michelle Brooks

Location

Chapman & Frazer Real Estate
83 Mann Street
Gosford, NSW 2250