We must maximise chance to transform Ballarat's CBD

We all love talking when what we need is action, and we’re all experts in everything we discuss, aren’t we! So it goes with our city mall, which always seems to be a popular issue – love it or hate it, open or close it, redevelop or demolish it.

At the Committee for Ballarat, our CBD task team tries to grapple with longer-term futures and the different opportunities that may emerge. Many members have travelled widely and see exciting possibilities ahead, but we need to formulate our own solutions and without too much more time. Council has set out a plan and is putting more detailed thought into the centre itself, while traders are open to collaborative thinking.

New and refurbishing retail centres around Ballarat are providing the meat and potato offerings which consumers need at convenient free parking venues. So, our CBD is transforming, or should transform, to redefine its purpose and offerings to meet leisure and entertainment, as well as specialty retailing demand.

Activation is often mentioned when we look for answers to declining centres and this does not mean buskers on every corner – but it would be nice to have some at least.

People will need reasons to come and enjoy an inner-city vibe that is already happening in Armstrong and Lydiard streets, which is in no small way due to the presence of the city’s premier arts and cultural attractions.

The coolest way to enjoy these areas is to walk or cycle around, but if you’re not living close by there is the inevitable transport issue. In a future of driverless vehicles, deregulated commercial passenger services and automated at-call bus services we will need less car parking within and more around the edges for now.

Ballarat surely will have a more centralised urban population with a mix of students, workers, residents and visitors who will take the walking and cycling options by preference. More living options around the central city will encourage new and creative enterprises for everyone’s tastes and we need different housing options to facilitate diversity. 

Local government and universities are constrained by reduced funding sources and feel the pressure to provide the full suite of facilities and services demanded by their communities. So why don’t we encourage them to get together for the benefit of the inner city and its cultural attractions?

Committee for Ballarat believes the common sense test requires a combined approach to governance of arts functions in Lydiard Street.

If the gallery, theatre and academy were governed by one board, and managed expertly with their own specialist staff, the annual program of attractions would be a superlative experience. Of course, we already have excellent programs, but the oversight of a combined board could raise them to new levels of brilliance.

So, instead of a short-term focus on our CBD, the committee is advocating for recognition of the different future we face and the advantages we already have to play an even stronger role in “activation” within. This means we want good developers to bring us the best in higher density living and conversions of heritage buildings.

Our major arts institutions can make a positive contribution by combining resources in an innovative and effective way if they are courageous enough.

The committee will support them in whatever way we can and the centre of town will be pumping with residents, visitors and students.

Janet Dore is chair of the Committee for Ballarat. 

This story Maximising chance to transform CBD first appeared on The Courier.