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Australia Ipswich CBD redevelopment finally breathes new life into city after years of failed plans and council inaction

23:30  26 july  2021
23:30  26 july  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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a living room filled with furniture and a fireplace: The $250 million Nicholas Street redevelopment project includes new retail spaces, a dining precinct, water features, two libraries including a children's library, a civic plaza, cinema and go karting track. (www.ipswichfirst.com.au) © Provided by ABC NEWS The $250 million Nicholas Street redevelopment project includes new retail spaces, a dining precinct, water features, two libraries including a children's library, a civic plaza, cinema and go karting track. (www.ipswichfirst.com.au)

Known as the "never never" project, the mission to revitalise the Ipswich CBD "ghost town" has taken more than 10 years of false starts and left Ipswich ratepayers out of pocket by $78 million.

Now the multi-million-dollar redevelopment of the city's business district has finally progressed, bringing confidence back to a community devastated by council corruption.

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Empty shopfronts once dotted the tired, abandoned mall, which was a victim of the former council's failed plan to breathe life back into the city's historic centre.

"The council bought the property and then for 10 years did nothing with it … audits have shown the previous council lost over $78 million," Ipswich Mayor Teresa Harding said.

"That's a lot of money and it's part of the reason why they were dismissed by the Queensland government."

The entire Ipswich City Council was sacked by the Queensland government in 2018.

A report by interim administrator Greg Chemello outlined how ratepayers had lost out on millions through the decade-long CBD redevelopment saga.

The council bought several CBD sites, redesigned redevelopment schemes and took overseas trips to review other CBD makeovers.

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"People had their businesses here and for 10 years they saw the CBD wound down," Cr Harding said.

"It's impacted their livelihoods, their investments, their ability to feed their families, as well as just a CBD.

"A city like Ipswich needs a thriving CBD ."

New era of success

It has been almost three years since the former Ipswich City Council was sacked and rebuilding trust has been the new mayor's top priority.

Local businesses say more has been done for the CBD in the past 18 months than the former council managed in years and there is hope a new era of success is coming.

The $250 million Nicholas Street redevelopment includes new retail spaces, a dining precinct, water features, two libraries including a children's library, a civic plaza, cinema and go karting track.

It was being built in phases and one of the first new tenants of the precinct is the council itself.

Its new administration building is in the mall and 750 staff have just moved in.

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"We all drink coffee, we all eat lunch, we all go to the chemist, and go out and about," Cr Harding said.

"It's 750 customers — new customers who are in the CBD and purchasing from the local businesses here."

The new children's library opened during school holidays and was attracting families from across south-east Queensland.

Nela Graham made the 90-minute trip from the Gold Coast with her son to see it.

"It's just so creative we need more kids spaces like this that are dedicated to kids, not just a corner of a library," Ms Graham said.

Business confidence returns

Nearby businesses are already seeing a new wave of customers, with foot traffic from the mall overflowing to the "Top of Town" area.

Leigh-Anne Townsley is the sales manager at one of Ipswich's oldest businesses, a family hobby shop.

"Teresa has taken over and she has done exceptionally well. She has brought a lot more people into the Top of Town area, livening it up," Ms Townsley said.

"You're getting a lot more foot traffic up especially on Saturdays … so having that foot traffic does bring a lot of business."

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Candy Gazdagh owns a busy cafe with her sister and was impressed with the new council's action.

"This council actually seems to be able to push things over the line," she said.

"The city is primed and it has so much to offer … it's primed for an explosion of families and business and growth and the council is so progressively forward-moving — it just can't not succeed."

Ms Gazdagh said a promising sign of business confidence was the number of new shops and cafes opening up.

"You can never have too many … I think there's a little patisserie opening and a little espresso bar around the corner, it just draws more and more people to this area and it's so positive, we welcome it."

'Time for us to close'

But the CBD redevelopment has come too late for newsagent owner Teresa Pearce, who is shutting up shop after more than 30 years.

"It's 15 years overdue," she said.

Despite it being the end of her days behind the counter, she has hope for the city's future.

"I've just decided it's time for us to close the doors and allow a new generation of business to occupy the space we're in now.

"In the last 48 hours, I've had two people come and approach me about renting this space … that tells me that there is a change in attitude to retail.

"We're going to be alright in Ipswich, really we are."

Ipswich Chamber of Commerce president Phillip Bell said it was a relief to finally see the heart of the city coming back to life.

"There's a renewed vigour and vibrancy for the business community," Mr Bell said.

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