Fitzroy Street’s Decline

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The Hon. Michael Danby MP

 

Dust on unopened envelopes behind glass doors of empty shops exemplifies Fitzroy St these days.

Michael Danby MP on Fitzory Street

Michael Danby MP on Fitzory Street

Near my office lies the gutted shell of Chronicles, a once-busy bookshop that provided quirky charm to the street. A few years ago the building owner and real estate agent excessively drove up the rent. Chronicles was sent to the wall. Since then the shop has remained empty. No tenants, no rent.

Cutting out this cultural heart of Fitzroy St had a cascading effect on surrounding premises, such as the niched French restaurant that departed soon afterward.

O.K. Leung’s Family Kitchen and Di Stasio are in the AFR’s top 100 restaurants. The sad fact is though, Chronicle’s story is repeated up and down Fitzroy Street. Six months ago, a report undertaken by Beller Commercial revealed that retail vacancy rates in Fitzroy St were at nearly 20 percent. I’ve seen nothing since indicating things are getting better.

Shopping strips are suffering all over Melbourne, but few are as affected as Fitzroy St. We’re coming down from a retail boom, when landlords could demand annual rent increases. But market conditions have reversed. Some owners appear not to notice. Perhaps they think that accepting a lower rent devalues their property. But having an empty shop—or an entire street of empty shops—doesn’t do property value much good either…

Together with the backpacker influx, Port Phillip City Council and Yarra Trams haven’t helped. Yarra Trams are robotically installing tram ‘super stops,’ with disastrous consequences. The street was blocked for months, making finding parks impossible (on top of the already dismal parking facilities on the street). Add to that the 40 km/h speed limit up the entire length of the street, and Melbourne’s second highest-grossing speed camera at the Fitzroy St/Lakeside Dr intersection. Little wonder people are staying away.

Port Phillip Council leave two parking spaces on Grey St, between the lane at the back of my office and Jackson St, that prevent traffic lining up abreast at the Fitzroy St lights. According to the Council, they want to choke traffic from Grey St to Canterbury Rd. Even this stupid idea of blocking traffic doesn’t work. Thousands of St Kilda and Elwood residents wonder why traffic doesn’t flow through the intersection, and why cars are backed up all the way to Barkly St (often even over the weekend).

Apparently, I’m not the only one concerned about Fitzroy St. Late last year I stuck a poster up on Chronicle’s shell, mourning its disappearance. The real estate agent angrily tore it down. I put it up again for Easter. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people that agreed with my sentiments. The Fitzroy Street Business Association is also annoyed. An increasing number of news reports, even in the sclerotic Age, have highlighted the issue.

The Mayor said one way the Council was going to target the street’s problem was with more lighting. Doing so will very effectively illuminate the empty shopfronts, but it won’t bring the people back.

 

Michael Danby is the federal Member for Melbourne Ports. His office is on Fitzroy St.

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