South Melbourne Market’s five-year strategy the roadmap to recovery

By Brendan Rees

The City of Port Phillip’s Deputy Mayor says “some very large challenges” lay ahead for the South Melbourne Market as it looks to future-proof the iconic shopping venue in its five-year strategic plan.

Speaking at a council meeting last month, Gateway Ward Cr Marcus Pearl said there was a “significant amount of change coming for the market and the pace of that change is already fairly frenetic,” and warned, “there’s a bumpy ride ahead”.

“It needs a sustainable governance structure and a communication line to council officers and councillors to ensure that when the bumps in the road hit over the next five years in terms of this plan, we have the right governance structure in place,” he said.

It comes as the council recently sought community feedback for its 2021-25 draft strategic plan for the market to “ensure it is in the best position to tackle the challenges ahead”.

According to the market’s annual report, 5.1 million people visited the market from July 2019 to June 2020, a drop of 7.5 per cent from the previous year due to COVID-19.

It noted the market’s income had been “significantly impacted” with $780,000 given in rental relief after the market recorded an operating deficit of $1.93 million following a fall in car parking revenue and the closure of its cooking school.

Cr Pearl, who sits on the market’s advisory committee, said its strategic plan was “ambitious” and it was “up to this council obviously to get the policy setting right” through “balanced feedback from the community”.

“The market isn’t a success by accident. It’s a success because of the wonderful people that have managed it.”

However, he conceded, “I don’t think any of us would realistically expect this to provide large cash dividends to council, but certainly, it needs to wash its face”.

Last month the council conducted a survey to gauge the community’s support for the key outcomes of the market’s draft strategic priorities for the next five years to ensure it has “a bright and prosperous future” as a shopping destination.

A council document noted the South Melbourne Market was “a much-loved local community hub” and valuable community asset, with the strategic plan focusing on “ensuring a positive community experience for everyone who visits the market”.

“It also seeks to ensure that the market adds to the vibrancy and sense of place for the broader South Melbourne community,” it said.

Trader Clare Lonergan, who sells baby wares, clothing, and teddies at the market, said while the impact of the pandemic had been devastating it was encouraging to see more people visiting the market.  

“We’re very grateful for all the local Melburnians who have rediscovered us. That has been really great,” she said.

“Even in the past six to eight weeks we were seeing more people come from interstate, which was great. That has really helped us.”

Ms Lonergan, who owns Clare’s Bears and Wares which has been operating at the market since 1988, said the various stalls offered “a little bit of everything”.

“When you do talk to people they’ve been coming here for decades, everything has been positive in that respect,” she said.

When asked how traders had been coping, she said “some are struggling, some are doing it easier than others”, adding “overall” her business was going okay.

During the May council meeting, a question was raised about whether a seat at Coventry St and Cecil St would be clear of waste and pallets at the market.

In response, Danielle Bleazby, the executive director of the South Melbourne Market, said it was aware of the “untidiness” of the pallets, and was something management was “keeping an eye on and making sure that it will be clear”.

Cr Christina Sirakoff said the market was “truly a treasured landmark” and hoped the “South Melbourne market team can turn around the market losses into a profitable revenue stream”.  

Cr Katherine Copsey said, “We get some really great feedback and ideas from the community so I’m very pleased to be progressing to consultation.”

Community feedback on the strategic plan will be presented to the council in this month.

During Melbourne’s lockdown, South Melbourne Market’s food stalls have been permitted to trade, while restaurants and cafes have been limited to serving takeaway only.

Non-food stalls including service providers have been closed •

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