The trumpets have sounded, for the City of Fremantle’s 2015-2020 Economic Development Strategy (EDS) made it through Council in the last week or so. Over the last 3-4 months the Fremantle Chamber has been talking, cajoling and sometimes stirring the pot across the development of the Strategy. When the draft was released, the Chamber got busy and submitted one of two formal responses received by the City.
At the outset I will be very clear that the Chamber supports the planning scheme adopted by the City and wholeheartedly endorses the City of Fremantle strategy of attracting more people to live and work in Fremantle.
The pipeline of proposed CBD developments at the Woolstores Shopping Centre, Kings Square, DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel (and other medium density residential projects) are offered by the City as panaceas for the revitalisation of inner city Fremantle. Once in place they will certainly change the space for the better but the Chamber’s concern is the ‘getting there’ over the next 5 years. The CBD business community will be operating in an environment of a declined economy and within, or alongside, major multiple construction sites.
It is for this reason that the Chamber felt it was vital that the 2015-2020 EDS gave greater priority to addressing the impact of transition with some real meaningly short term wins to improve viability across the CBD in the short term. Fremantle has choices – namely to realise a larger community with an active business heart, or trying to attract people to live in a region with a dead heart. Our preference is the former.
So when the Fremantle Chamber of Commerce gave in principle support to the City of Fremantle 2015-2020 Economic Development Strategy, the endorsement came with a fairly big BUT and ultimately that BUT is about money. The Chamber’s concern is that the investment allocated to the Strategy is not strong enough (or big enough) to make a substantial enough impact when it is needed the most. Right now.
The Chamber wants far greater investment in marketing and branding, and for that investment to be targeted to go well beyond the CoF boundaries, maintaining Fremantle story and existing tourism marketing. The local population is not big enough to sustain the businesses of the Fremantle CBD. Until a much larger inner city population is achieved, it is the visitors to Fremantle, from the region outside Fremantle, the broader metropolitan area, or interstate/international, that will drive the economic growth of the CBD. We need to get them here. We need to remind them to come.
Other parts we are very, very keen on are the investments in wayfinding, the upgrade of the High Street Mall, the vision dark spot lighting program, an improved visitor centre, the commercial property acquisition strategy, West End activation and increased car parking capacity.
Parts we are not so keen on include the low budget and strategy detail for place activation and creative industries development (though use of existing City buildings is a good start), CBD road closures except for strategic one off events, reduction of street parking for CBD customers, and lack of connectivity to Fishing Boat Harbour and Victoria Quay.
For Fremantle to succeed in being a great place to live and work, we need it also to be a great place to be in business. Let’s get the show on the road.