By Casey Neill
Apartment towers need to take the place of Central Dandenong’s old office spaces.
Greater Dandenong Council’s business group manager, Paul Kearsley, said encouraging more people to live in the centre would in turn encourage more retailers to move in.
The Journal reached out to Mr Kearsley after several traders expressed concerns about commercial vacancies in the Dandenong CBD.
He said that in 2016 the vacancy rate was 11 per cent in the centre “which is pretty much average for Melbourne” and that the council would take another look.
“We want to see what that 11 per cent is now,” he said.
“We want to see if it’s significantly higher. We don’t think it is.”
He said that one of his staff took a mini audit of Lonsdale Street and found that most vacancies related to banks.
Mr Kearsley said ANZ, the Commonwealth Bank and Bank of Melbourne all moved into Dandenong Plaza.
They already had facilities in the shopping and their Lonsdale Street presence was a double-up.
“We’re not losing them, which is the crucial thing,” he said.
“We’re still getting a sense of turnover.
“Businesses move out but after a couple of months, new businesses are moving in.”
He said there were a number of empty spaces in Thomas Street.
“The biggest factor of the commercial vacancies is the old tax office,” he said.
He said the owner had refurbished and upgraded the space but there were many new spaces with high sustainability standards available.
“The older stuff over time needs to transition to residential,” he said.
“The value of the land becomes more for residential than offices.
“Once a few start happening it will encourage a few others to start.”
Mr Kearsley said Dandenong had a very high amount of retailing, so getting people to live in the centre was a key support.
“For us to attract new retail and different types of retail, that’s where we have to encourage population growth,” he said.
“If we can get these residential towers up, that will start us on the way towards people living in the centre and buying in the centre.”
Spectra broke ground on a 20-storey, 56-apartment Thomas Street tower last November.
In March last year, Orion International Group announced plans for a $60 million, 140-apartment block in Foster Street.
The developments are part of the $290 million, 10 to 20-year Revitalising Central Dandenong project, which started in 2006.
“If we can get people to live in the centre of Dandenong they will then use Dandenong like people use Fountain Gate and Parkmore,” Mr Kearsley said.
He said apartment saturation like the glut in the Docklands was a question to ask 10 years from now.
“It’s such a new market here that we don’t have as many apartments,” he said.
“It’s about finding more affordable options.
“It’s also giving people the opportunity to live, work and shop in one place, or catch a train into the city to work.”
He said the towers also created opportunities for business spaces on the ground floor.
The council is chasing government departments to relocate to Dandenong, as well as private businesses, to in turn encourage more retailers.
“Office workers spend about $9 million in the centre,” Mr Kearsley said.
“If we can encourage more office workers to come here there’s greater opportunity for businesses.
“The average lunch spend is about $10.”
He said the council would also speak with private property owners to find out how it could help, and look at how other centres handle vacant spaces.
“Some use artwork to hide them,” he said.
“We’ve just got to make sure that we do anything we can do.”