YRBA reveals five-year strategy for Southbank’s business precinct
By Jack Hayes
The Yarra River Business Association (YRBA) has unveiled its Five-Year Strategic Plan: 2021-2026, aimed at leading its members through post COVID-19 recovery with an eye on big ticket infrastructure projects like Greenline and the “Arts Centre re-imagining.”
The plan aligns with key findings from two seminal documents; the 2021 member and stakeholder survey conducted by Right Angle Studio, and the 2019 report from the Yarra River Big Ideas Forum, facilitated on behalf of the association by ARUP Australia.
The association’s deep-dive survey looked to answer two fundamental questions preceding the development of the strategic plan; is the YRBA still needed in a post-pandemic world, and what is there left for it to achieve?
With 70 per cent of business members declaring they derived “some” or “a lot” of benefit from belonging to YRBA and 88 per cent of members claiming the area would, or may, suffer without the association, executive officer Tim Bracher, told Southbank News he and his board now had the confidence to move forward with momentum.
“There was the risk faced when we commissioned Right Angle Studio to do the survey of our members,” Mr Bracher said. “The board was quite prepared to step aside should the survey find that we haven’t been performing to their expectations, or that we were no longer needed.”
“We were pleased and relieved that we are still relevant and worthwhile for our members everyday business endeavours. We are now confident moving forward, armed with solid feedback from our members, to look ahead to the next five years.”
According to Mr Bracher, the association is under no illusions the large majority of the Five-Year Strategic Plan would involve almost totally rebuilding after the pandemic.
Other key issues facing the precinct outlined in the strategic plan include major disruptions to Southbank Promenade from upgrade works and redevelopment of the Southgate sub-precinct, continuing business and resident concern about cyclist and pedestrian separation on the promenades, and contested use of water and land assets within the precinct.
“The big change over the next five years will be the start of Greenline. It will likely take the two or three years in planning, but we are hoping in the end of the five-year cycle we see some long-hanging fruit coming to fruition for north bank,” Mr Bracher said.
“In particular, we hope to see Banana Alley’s transformation into an outstanding tourism sub-precinct.”
Coinciding with the Greenline’s transformation of the Yarra’s north bank, the association is expecting to see significant transformation opportunities with the Southgate redevelopment, Arts Centre re-imagining, Arts Precinct development, and Riverlee’s Seafarers development, leading the way.
At a grass-roots level, the strategic plan will look to continue the YRBA’s advocacy for its members with council and government agencies, business support through marketing and networking opportunities and increased communication and transparency with regards to governance of the association.
According to Pure South Dining co-owner Philip Kennedy, the YRBA’s advocacy for members had culminated in a few “spectacular results” for his popular riverside venue.
“They cut very quickly to contacts, particularly at the City of Melbourne, the network the YRBA has, which a small business owner won’t, has been incredible,” Mr Kennedy said.
“Council can be a difficult beast to approach at times, but to have someone from the YRBA reaching out on our behalf or finding a contact, it helps cutting through bureaucracy.”
“Everyone’s sense of networking and being a part of an association is very different, you tend to get back what you put in. The common-sense approach [from the YRBA] and knowledge of other members has helped me see issues differently. That might be in resolving something for myself or having a better attitude towards something when you have a broader vision.”
Mr Kennedy alluded to a key strength in the fabric of the YRBA coming in the form of a consistent and “switched on” committee and board, representing a range of industries.
YRBA president and former Arts Centre Melbourne executive officer Jeremy Vincent, said the key role of the association was communicating with its members and providing a conduit to local and government stakeholders.
“It is our job to help our members come to the nuts and bolts of the some of the decision making and impacting the river and the people [who] live and work along it,” Mr Vincent said.
“It is the key element to keeping everyone happy and informed, and in turn, creating a thriving and cohesive precinct.”
Without the YRBA, Southbank would be without a coalface business organisation and without an interface between businesses and the City of Melbourne.
As the precinct wakes post-COVID, that interface role will be more crucial to local businesses than ever as they look to utilise the council in any way, whether that be for outdoor dining permits or recovery funding.
“The City of Melbourne has been a fantastic partner for the last 20 years in keeping the precinct program going, which has developed into an outstanding example of council and businesses working together, to create a cross flow of communication and information and monetary assistance,” Mr Bracher said.
“Council doesn’t get a lot of credit for the hard yards they have put in for the last 20 years to create what is a world class precinct program.”
“The YRBA is a good example of what has emerged out of the council business collaboration.”
The Victorian Government roadmap will see the precinct return to outdoor dining as of late October, with further easing of restrictions expected in the weeks after.
The YRBA will take advantage of the new freedoms with a thrice rescheduled Lord Mayoral Luncheon slated for Friday, November 12, at the Belgian Beer Garden •
For more information: yarrariver.melbourne