On 24 July Property Leaders Brisbane asked key place making and retail thought leaders to present their views on how the buildings of the future will engage with the city. Can the line between public and private space evolve, successfully enabling the city to permeate upwards into our building podiums? Will our community embrace a public realm which is above the street, and will developments succeed in making these innovations generate the returns they promise? This article summarises some key points in response to those questions.

Retail outlets in Brisbane Australia

Active retail space is expanding in Brisbane’s CBD.

The retail offering in Brisbane city will expand over time beyond the traditional retail heart of the CBD. In much of the CBD, where high rise commercial and residential buildings have historically led to relatively inactive streetscapes, we will see a transformation to include greater retail and food offers. This change is already being seen, driven by commercial tenant’s requirements for readily accessible food and convenience for their staff. Matthew Miller at Grocon describes this as ticking all boxes in terms of the short black, quick bite, long lunch. The by-product of landlords and developers delivering such amenity for their tenants is that Brisbane city will become a more vibrant and active place.

Tenant needs are driving change.

The traditional high rise office tower having a few obligatory retail tenancies at street level will diminish as tenants shift to buildings which have a more vibrant podium offering. New developments such as Dexus and Grocon’s 480 Queen St and reinvigorated assets such as Charter Hall’s 175 Eagle St are prime examples. They are drawing major CBD tenants away from the commercial centre of the city through careful consideration of their food and convenience offers, combined with the creation of vibrant public spaces. Belinda Kalinin at Charter Hall highlights that with the current high vacancy rates and generous lease terms available, existing asset holders throughout Brisbane city are, and will continue to reposition their retail offer to ensure they can maintain and grow their commercial tenant base. Commercial tenants want convenient podium retail and services for highly productive, time-poor staff. They also want cafés and restaurants within their buildings which compliment the brand they project and can be perceived as an extension to their office environment.

Shift thinking from creating buildings to creating destinations.

Landlords are also shifting their focus to provide unique destinations rather than mere buildings. The public realm is being drawn into buildings across multiple levels, supported by a tailored mix of retail, food and other services such as concierge, cycle and gym facilities. These spaces will provide for tenant needs while also creating new places for people to explore in the city, every day. Retail and food operators gain exposure beyond building occupants to the broad customer base needed to sustain their business, while CBD workers and visitors gain greater choice in where to meet.

Properties which are located in the far reaches of Brisbane’s CBD, particularly those near the Northern Gateway to Spring Hill and Fortitude Valley, must be destinational. They are removed from the traditional retail and commercial centres of the city and therefore need to provide a unique experience and a civic amenity that the fringe currently lacks. 480 Queen St is located in a quiet pocket of the city near the Northern Gateway and as such this new development has to work particularly hard to be destinational. Projects such as this can be a catalyst for a reinvigoration of the fringe. David Whitting of White & Partners also points out that the outcome of the nearby Queen’s Wharf Brisbane precinct will have a considerable impact on the ability for properties near the Northern Gateway to achieve desirable levels of activation.

Public space creation within developments will be a hallmark for creating and maintaining a sustainable asset into the future.

While a relatively new phenomenon to Brisbane, the same strategies have been applied in cities around the world. Having recently undertaken study tours in cities such as Istanbul, Milan and Tokyo, Ingrid Richards of Richards & Spence points out that there are many examples where buildings have played a substantial role in defining the public realm. The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul and Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II in Milan for example, are two buildings within which the internal laneways form an integral, energetic part of the city. The active laneways and open spaces which are emerging in Brisbane city are encouraged by local government but cannot be realised without committed private investment. Matthew Miller emphasises that achieving outstanding investment and civic outcomes requires challenging of planning policy to achieve balanced outcomes. 480 Queen St is a prime example where podium activation, retail and service amenity, generous public space provision and cross block links have enabled reductions in building setbacks and car parking to achieve the right balance. However, David Whitting argues that more work is needed at a policy level, particularly in relation to achieving conveniently affordable car parking strategies to encourage weekend trade and create a vibrant city seven days a week.

Food courts, cafe courts and restaurant precincts are also being positioned above street level with convenience and speciality retail offerings below. While having been common in Asia for some time this formula is also now proving to be popular in Australia. Brisbane’s CBD is expected to respond well to this strategy and landlords are working with operators to create exciting sustainable offers. A number of new restaurants and cafe precincts will be unveiled soon, so stay tuned.

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