FREMANTLE city council plans to penalise landlords with double rates if their shops are unoccupied for lengthy periods.
Mayor Brad Pettitt took a short break from his holiday to tell the Herald he was tired of landlords setting extortionate, unrealistic rents which crippled traders and led to empty shopfronts.
He plans to have the policy in place by the end of the year.
The Merchant Tea and Coffee Company on South Terrace and Spotlight on Adelaide Street are just two prime shopfronts sitting dormant.
The double-rates policy is already in place for unoccupied properties such as the Woolstores in Cantonment Street and some ground-floor car parks, but not shops.
Dr Pettit’s edict comes in the wake of High Street’s True Blue Gallery and French restaurant Great Mellie closing down just this week and the sudden closure of Le Poisson D’or at Bathers Beach.
Iconic High Street bookshop New Edition—next door to True Blue—is refusing to speak to the Chook about rumours it is for sale too.
Exorbitant rents and falling foot-traffic has seen a mass exodus of businesses from High Street in recent years, including Pure and Natural, Creative Native and Red Canvas.
In September, retail titan Myer announced it was pulling down the shutters on its Freo branch early this year.
“After Myer leaving Fremantle it is clear that the retail sector is at a turning point,” Dr Pettitt says.
“We can’t let it drop much further and we need to get an influx of retail in to replace Myer’s presence.
“We also need more people living and working in the city—currently there are only around 800 people living in the centre—office workers are a bit slice of the retail market.”
Dr Pettitt says it is a “race against the clock” to complete a series of key developments that will revive Fremantle’s moribund retail sector:
• The $220 million Kings Square redevelopment will be a shopping focal point, galvanising the city’s fragmented retail;
• Amendment 49 will allow higher density developments and entice more people to live and work in the city;
• the $10m sale of a council-owned block bordered by Adelaide and Point Streets will transform the 500sqm site into a mix of residential, commercial and short-stay accommodation.
Rumours Target plans to close prompted Dr Pettitt to contact the retail giant’s Fremantle landlord for reassurance.
“I have been told the speculation was false and they are in process of negotiating the renewal of their lease,” the mayor told the Herald.
Target corporate advisor Lauren Andrews also scotched the rumour.
“I can confirm that we have no plans to close the Target store in Fremantle,” she said.