Dying Ipswich CBD to be resuscitated by health precinct
Council administrator Greg Chemello said patients and hospital visitors would spend at local cafes and shops. (ABC News)
After decades of failed attempts to rejuvenate the dying Ipswich CBD and millions of dollars lost on promised upgrades that never eventuated, Ipswich City Council says a new plan to turn large swathes of the inner-city into aged care and health facilities will be the injection of life that locals have been waiting for.
In a national first the council will turn its attention to Australia’s fastest-growing industry — health — a plan that other councils are watching closely as city centres around the country lose the battle for consumers to large suburban shopping centres.
The move comes as the 2018 Chief Health Officers Report reveals that the health service will grow by 45 per cent over the next decade, meaning a significant increase in the number of patients, and the West Moreton Hospital and Health service, which covers Ipswich, growing more than any other location in the state.
Health services chairman Michael Willis said thousands of staff were predicted to flow into the CBD. (ABC News)
The plan will see the council chambers and library sold to the Health Department in order to expand the hospital and the Metro Hotel turned into a 99-bed aged care facility.
By turning the CBD into a health precinct the council hopes other allied health services will then fill the empty shop fronts.
Health services chairman Michael Willis said thousands of staff were predicted to flow into the CBD.
“We don’t have exact projections, but I can see at least another 2,000 to 2,500 staff working here in the next 20 years,” Mr Willis said.
Council administrator Greg Chemello said patients and hospital visitors would also spend their money at cafes and shops in the area.
“It’s all the regular retail that you’d need from office workers, you know, people who work in hospitals are no different, in some respects, to other office workers,” Mr Chemello said.
“We’d also have an enormous range of visitors that’d be looking for lunch and for dinner as well.
“That’s what will get cafes and bars I think more invigorated in the city.”
Will the new plan work?
The previous Ipswich City Council lost millions on its last pitch to reinvigorate the CBD when private company Ipswich City Properties (ICP) was set up to oversee a $150 million facelift of the mall and centre of town, but the company was “technically bankrupt”, before it was wound up earlier this year.
Mr Chemello would not disclose the amount the council buildings would be sold for, saying it was “commercial in confidence”.
But, the plan is set to cost ratepayers thousands, if not millions, as the revenue from the sale will not cover the cost of a new administration centre.
“This sale will offset impart the cost of building a new administration centre, it won’t pay for the entirety of it, but that’s not really the key issue, the key issue is to give the hospital room to expand,” he said.
“If we don’t sell this spot to health department and we don’t give the hospital a chance to grow, in 10, 20 or 30-years’ time the hospital will have to move, and we’ll lose the hospital from the CBD and we just can’t afford that.”
But, it will take at least two years before business owners see any improvement.
Under a Memorandum of Understanding signed by the council and health department, council would retain control of its current administration centre until 2020, when the new council chambers are to be built.
Managing director of the Demographics Group, Bernard Salt, said as the baby boomers aged it made sense to insert health and wellness precincts into the CBD.
“Health is the fastest growing job market on the Australian continent — has been for 20 years,” he said.
“With the aging of the baby boomers, health, wellness and wellbeing is going to be a growth industry.”
‘It is basically a dead zone’
Ipswich store owner Jim McKee said the last decade had been tough, as he watched the city streets become quiet. (ABC News)
Ipswich store owner Jim McKee said the last decade had been tough, as he watched the city streets become quiet.
“The main problem is lack of walk by trade, there is a lot less people on the street,” he said.
“When we opened our first business here in 2003 this was the place to be, because it was close to town… because that’s where all the people were.
“But it has hollowed out now, it is basically a dead zone.”
Mr McKee said he had been let down before with broken promises of city centre upgrades.
“We moved to the mall when council bought it [in 2008] and there were lots of promises about the rejuvenation of the mall, street front dining and the shops being full,” he said.
“The reverse happened, it was never paid for, and everyone left.
“It’s a long wait, scores of businesses have already gone.
“I’d say before that happens you will see more businesses leaving.”