Struggling CBD retail centre’s $100m makeover fail
A $100 million makeover to once again attract high-end shoppers to a CBD shopping complex in the Queen St Mall may have missed its mark with more than a dozen stores sitting abandoned.
Behind the beaming bright facade of the Wintergarden is an entire corridor of deserted shops that belie the busy Queen St facade that boasts world fashion labels Zara, R M Williams, Mecca Maxima and Lululemon.
The 'Wintergarden wasteland' contains shop carcasses that have been fitted with dressed-to-impress mannequins, props and tables while another has a hoarding with funky high-end fashion artwork promoting Mecca Maxima.
All tactfully disguised with a lit 'Wintergarden' sign above each door.
The struggle for tenants comes less than a decade ago after the centre forked-out for a $100 million overhaul that included a 90m long three dimensional 'whimsical metal facade' studded with 24,000 LED lights.
If crowds have gathered out the front at sunset to see the light display and take a selfie, they certainly have not been drawn to take a deeper look or spend inside.
If anyone happened to walk in this week, their first impression would be an abandoned restaurant and it would not be long before they found the Wintergarden's 'wasteland'.
A Wintergarden representative said the "vacancies are not new" and the ability to access Elizabeth St was problematic.
"This rear section of the centre has vacancies due to the difficulty in accessing Elizabeth Street," the representative said.
"The focus of our leasing strategy is that the bulk of the centre continues to do well.
"The development in 2012 reconfigured the centre to create new Queen Street Mall flagship retailers, which have succeeded in attracting new brands to Brisbane and reinvigorated the food court."
They said that a number of new retailers, including Soma's HotPot, Jee's Burger, Holey Moley at Strike Bowling, had opened and the abandoned first floor restaurant would soon reopen.
"We are pleased to announce Tokyo Premium, a traditional Japanese curry restaurant … is scheduled to open in the coming months."
The multimillion-dollar fit-out was to make the centre more competitive with Queen's Plaza which stole the centre's mantle as the high-end, up-market fashion label CBD destination, says Queensland University of Technology marketing professor Gary Mortimer.
He said the Wintergarden, which was remodelled from a 1920s theatre into a shopping mall in 1981, always had a point of difference from the Myer Centre which was a middle of the road, "cheap and cheerful mum and dad's destination".
"Wintergarden clearly differentiated itself from the Myer Centre in the nineties as being the up-market boutique," Mr Mortimer said.
"When Queen's Plaza opened (fully in 2008) it was the nail in the coffin because it upped the ante as being the fashion destination, with Chanel and Tiffany's in there and anchored by a David Jones, premium department store.
"To combat the Queen's Plaza development they upgraded The Wintergarden but ultimately they can't fill the space."
He believed there was little they could do to arrest the lack of retail tenants and instead they should concentrate on their strength which is the food court.
"It signals that the philosophy and build it and they will come does not hold in the Brisbane market because there are only so many CBD shoppers," he said.
"They are good at food and have high foot traffic in the mornings and in the afternoons and I think that's what they should leverage because they are never going to win the retail battle".
Making matters even more difficult for the Wintergarden, which is owned by Industry Superannuation Property Trust, to secure up-market labels has been the emergence of a 'millionaires' row of outlets on the corner of Edward and Elizabeth Streets.
Cartier, Montblanc, Hermes, Gucci and Tag Heuer, all up-market brands that perfectly suit the Wintergarden's retail demographic, are clustered together within a 100m of the centre.
IMPACT OF QUEEN'S WHARF
In addition, in 2022, a high-end retail plaza will open at the $3.6 billion Queen's Wharf casino complex and that will provide a whole new set of challenges for Queen St mall tenants, Mr Mortimer said.
He singled out the Wintergarden, Queen's Plaza and the properties currently leased by the likes of Cartier and Tag Heuer in Edwards St as coming under pressure when Queen's Wharf opens.
"There are only so many people who shop in the CBD and if you are playing in that high end retail space the market is even smaller," Mr Mortimer said.
"It creates the big question mark as to what happens to Wintergarden as well as Edward St and Queen's Plaza when Queen's Wharf opens.
"If it was me that ran the Wintergarden, I'd be saying retail is dead in the space, we have a great food offer, lease it back to the Hilton or make it commercial office space and focus on the food court."
National Retailers Association CEO Dominque Lamb said there have been some rumblings about the impact the Queen's Wharf development but was confident that the benefits would outweigh the disadvantages.
She said predictions that Queen's Wharf complex would attract 1.4 million additional visitors to Brisbane each year then it certainly would be a boon for retailers.
"We have had our members raise concerns about whether it will take away foot traffic from existing areas but we believe the retailers at Queens Wharf are targeted at different demographics," Ms Lamb said.
"The areas will be attracting new clientele and making Brisbane more cosmopolitan and will be about keeping tourists in Brisbane rather than going to the Gold Coast.
"The retailers in the locations will be very high end and have a specific clientele."
She said the addition of some 200 residential apartments within the complex, which are expected to come online by the end of the decade, would also assist CBD retailers.
"Where there's a residential building it benefits retail and having that many consumers permanently stationed in that area means there will be additional spending," she said.
Run by The Star Entertainment Group, the casino will have 2500 pokies - about 1000 more than it operates at Treasury Casino.
Overall the Queen's Wharf complex will contain some 50 bars and restaurants, a sky deck, a riverfront moonlight cinema, retail stores and four new luxury hotels.
It will contain four retail zones within the lower levels of the Treasury building - currently home to Brisbane's Treasury Casino - to be part of an high-end retail centre.
A Star Entertainment Group spokesperson said the complex would draw an additional 1.4 million visitors to Brisbane annually and provide extensive opportunities for the tourism and hospitality industry.
"This development will grow the pie in multiple ways," the spokesperson said.
"It will provide extensive opportunities for others in the tourism and hospitality industry, enabling them to leverage the additional awareness, appeal and visitation this transformational precinct will create for the city.