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A step forward at the Southgate food court

A step forward at the Southgate food court
Rhonda Dredge

Hoardings have been erected and leases offered by Southgate’s new manager ESR Australia in a refurbishment program aimed at getting people back to the precinct’s food court.

Head of asset management at ESR Australia Rob Ewing said the company was offering leases of three or four years to tenants as part of a $250,000 (phase 1) refurbishment of the food court.

This is despite a major $470 million redevelopment of the precinct that still hovers over its tenants, which Mr Ewing said the company continued to review after acquiring Southgate from previous owner ARA Asset Management in 2021.

“The masterplan for a large-scale redevelopment is still being reviewed,” Mr Ewing told Southbank News. “A lot of work is going into it.”

While there is greater cause for optimism under the reign of new management, the uncertainty surrounding the project, which was approved by the state government in 2021, has cast a pall over the everyday functioning of the court.

Just seven food outlets are in operation; the popular Lindt store, which kept locals in coffee during lockdown, has closed and the court is lucky to stay open until 3pm, even on weekends.

Customers of the court, who remember its heyday, are putting pressure on management to get their act together.

Lorraine Fraser used to travel in from Black Rock and meet five or six friends in the food court before going to a show at the Arts Centre.

“It’s depressing,” she told Southbank News, as she sat with her friend with two takeaway cups in a dark corner next to a hoarding.

“We’d all come for a bite to eat. We’d get our own thing and meet back at the table. It was our favourite place.”

Lorraine met her friend for lunch upstairs at the Greek restaurant and only came down for coffee because the cake shop was full.

Traders are tight-lipped about the situation with pre-made sandwiches stockpiling and custom down to such a point that they’re sometimes closing early.

Customers were around, particularly during the tennis, and the Mary Martin bookshop reported a January that was almost back to normal.

But according to industry sources, Hong Kong-headquartered real estate fund manager and investment firm ESR Cayman Limited, which took over from the previous owner ARA Asset Management, are “keeping their options open” in terms of its future.

Currently there are seven food retailers listed on hoardings with invitations for others to enquire about leasing arrangements.

In the meantime, disgruntled workers from nearby office buildings are complaining about the range of food on offer.

“There’s no draw card. It doesn’t look inviting,” said Matt Rose, a local worker, who is keen to see a salad bar installed.

 

Mr Ewing said the company was trying to turn the food court back into a destination with its recent refurbishment, which began in December 2022.

 

“It’s all about the leasing, getting everyone back engaged. It looks a bit tired,” he acknowledged.

He said a lot of old redundant infrastructure was being cleaned up “so it was aesthetically okay to attract occupants and the general public.”

He said the company was not shutting the food court early, but that foot traffic was not yet back up to pre-COVID levels.

“Operators are doing the same calculations,” he said. •

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