No plans to expand outdoor dining on Southbank Promenade
The City of Melbourne has no plans to bring back an expanded outdoor dining program on Southbank Promenade as it seeks to ensure the safety of record crowds visiting the area.
Council data showed between April and October the average pedestrian activity in Southbank on Friday and Saturday nights between 6pm and 6am was at 151 per cent of the pre-COVID benchmark.
In October, pedestrian activity was at 153 per cent of the pre-COVID benchmark, while spending had hit $911 million between October and September. With the spike in foot traffic and visitors now taking advantage of the warmer weather, the council recently received two enquiries from Southgate tenants Waterfront and Pure South to expand outdoor dining.
Southgate centre management was previously issued a temporary permit under the Extended Outdoor Dining program to support six tenancies to trade safely during COVID-19 and during recovery in 2020 and 2021.
The permit expired in March 2022 and “there are currently no active outdoor dining permits held by Southgate centre management,” the council confirmed.
In reviewing the tenancy enquiries to have outdoor dining, the council said, “to ensure the safety of pedestrians, cyclists, traders and patrons, the City of Melbourne has decided that these areas will remain for the public and not for commercial use along Southbank Promenade”.
The council also said the enquiries were made by two individual tenancies, not by Southgate centre management.
“The City of Melbourne works collaboratively with hospitality businesses to enable and activate spaces in the public realm where possible. There are currently 27 permits (25 footpath, one parklet and one non-standard space) for outdoor dining across the whole of Southbank,” the council said in a statement.
Permits fees for outdoor dining were reintroduced in November 2022 with a 50 per cent discount on all parklets across the city and an extended freeze on fees in Docklands until June 2023.
Owner of Pure South Philip Kennedy said he was disappointed the outdoor dining program could no longer proceed.
“I would love to have the outdoor dining on the river, it was embraced by everybody during that COVID period,” he said. “We were grateful to have it then and so were our customers, everyone loved it. There are acres of space so I would like to think that we could do that in future when the council is on board.”
A small business trader, who asked not to be named, said while business was good on weekends, they questioned how the foot traffic data was relevant to small hospitality venues in Southbank who didn’t trade late at night.
“How is that relevant to businesses here who are not open until 6am?” the trader said.
“What are the actual figures? Are they cherry picking them again to try and create a good news story that doesn’t exist?” they said, in which he pointed to data released earlier this year that showed activity between 11pm and 3am.
Tim Bracher, executive officer of the Yarra Business Association, said weekend trade and traffic was positive, but “it doesn’t automatically flow through to increased sales, and business will require a solid summer season to really re-establish themselves”.
“Lunchtime trade is still well down, with only 45 per cent of people back in their office towers, and while the two day a week workers may mean a boost to after-hours drinks on a Thursday or Friday, it doesn’t make up for the lack of weekday lunch trade, which a lot of our businesses rely on to stay afloat,” he said.
“The effects of mortgage rises are starting to wash through the system, so the next few months will be the real test, as discretionary spending really tightens up.” •