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Yarra River Business Association

09 Sep 2020

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Farewell

By John Forman - outgoing president

This is my last column as President of the Yarra River Business Association (YRBA).

After six years in the role, I am stepping down at the September 17 annual general meeting (AGM) to pursue business interests outside the precinct.

My links to Southbank go back a lot further than my current role. From the early 2000s I was a local resident and was managing restaurants and bars along the river. From 2008 I was general manager of Eureka Skydeck and Eureka 89 Events & Dining. It has always been great fun and very exciting to be part of the maturing of the Yarra River business precinct.

Some highlights of that time have been bringing Lunar New Year celebrations to the lower Yarra, seeing the growing activation of the waterway through venues such as Arbory Afloat and the opening and flourishing of South Wharf.

It’s sad to finish my term amid such an economic downturn and, undoubtedly, there will be business casualties. However, the precinct’s underpinning patronage of Melburnians and Southbankers should keep things afloat until the corporate market returns and tourism resumes.

The most encouraging change during recent years has been the upswing of interest and attention shown by the precinct’s two major custodians, the City of Melbourne and Parks Victoria.

Under Lord Mayor Sally Capp, the river has gained the status it deserves from Town Hall. Sally’s personal interest and the release in December 2019 of the council’s Yarra River Strategy means that there is, at long last, some master-planning for the corridor. The Lord Mayor talks about a “greenline” connecting Birrarung Marr and Docklands. This will also improve access to Northbank from the CBD, meaning that city life can flow down unimpeded to the waterline.

With the arrival of Matthew Jackson as CEO of Parks Victoria there was an immediate change of attitude to governance of the river itself. Parks Victoria moved from seeing itself as merely a policeman of the waterway to being an active partner in bringing the river to life. The market demographic for river-based experiences has changed dramatically over the past decade. Canoes, kayaks, dragon boats, paddle boards and small hire boats are now all part of the “democratisation” of the river, while the traditional tour boats will always have a major role to play.

While the current lockdown and post COVID-19 environment will be a challenge for most of our businesses, the chance to build better connections between residents and local businesses is a challenge that has been taken-up by YRBA. I encourage local residents to get to know their neighbourhood businesses better, and I urge our businesses to embrace the 25,000 Southbankers as part of their ongoing business strategies, rather than falling back to almost total reliance on tourists and office workers.

Finally, I would like to thank YRBA’s executive officer Tim Bracher, the YRBA board and our members for their support over the years. The precinct will bounce back and flourish in years to come. I strongly recommend all local businesses join YRBA. These times we currently face require togetherness and collaboration •

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