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After decade of delays, Mayor launches $250m upgrade of Ipswich CBD

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After 10 years of false starts, Ipswich’s CBD is set for a $250 million upgrade as the city’s new mayor hopes to instil confidence in a community still overcoming the sacking of the previous council.

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After 10 years of false starts, planning and re-planning, Ipswich’s CBD is getting the upgrade the community has been looking for to revitalise business in the south-east Queensland city.

The $250 million Nicholas Street redevelopment aims to bring commerce and foot traffic back to the historic area of town, which has seen an increasing number of empty shopfronts and a downturn in trade in recent years.

The project includes new retail spaces, a dining precinct, water features, two libraries including a children’s library, a civic plaza, and a new multi-storey council administration building.

Marking three months as the city’s mayor, Teresa Harding, the 51st mayor of Ipswich and the first female in the job, said she was hopeful the project could help instil confidence in those looking for opportunity.

“The previous council did make a dog’s breakfast of this,” Harding said.

“People are a bit jaded that it has taken 10 years, but there are a tonne of people that are really excited about this.”

The previous council, which was sacked in late 2018 amid investigations by the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC), purchased many of the properties in the city under the council-owned Ipswich City Properties group.

A report by the council’s interim administrator early in 2020 revealed the previous council had lost $78 million on the purchases.

“We are really keen to make sure the project benefits the people of Ipswich and adheres to the schedule and the costs as projected,” Harding said.

“We all want to make this work and we all see the opportunity here.”

Harding said one of the most important things moving forward was transparency.

As part of a 100-day fresh start plan, the council launched a transparency and integrity hub to make financial data from previous administrations available.

“Having a new council is helping because people know they are dealing with a local government that is open and honest,” she said.

“We are now getting so much more interest from businesses to set up here and that means jobs here, which is what we need.

“We are the fastest growing city in Queensland and the oldest provincial city and more and more people are starting to realise the opportunities we have here.”

As part of the Nicholas Street redevelopment, the facade of the 110-year-old Commonwealth Hotel sits stabilised.

The hotel — also known as Murphy’s Pub — was purchased by the previous council and had so far cost $3.5 million for its works.

A recent report by council said the money had been spent on the demolition and storage of parts of the facade and bracing the rest of the building.

Earlier the month, the council pledged an additional $2.3 million on the project to reassemble the building

“We don’t want to be in the position of other towns — like Caboolture — [it] just lost its last historic building, its CBD,” Harding said.

“We are really proud of our history and we have some beautiful architecture, so while it is expensive, we think in the long term it is an investment in Ipswich.”

Phillip Bell, president of the Ipswich Region Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the Nicholas Street redevelopment would be pivotal in lifting business in the CBD.

“As a consequence of this investment, we have seen other private investment has come on board understanding there is massive opportunity in the Ipswich region,” Bell said.

“One of the concerns and frustrations of local residents is the time it has taken to settle on the appropriate vehicle for developing the Nicholas Street site, and the appropriate development — the mix and the focus.

“It is a high-risk development, only in the fact it has taken a long time to get to this point.

“But let’s not forget there are some longstanding successful businesses and complexes in the region.”

On the northside of the Bremer River, the Riverlink shopping centre was developed in 2007, with many critics arguing it effectively moved the CBD from its traditional place.

“Economics is about attracting commercial development in the right place, at the right time,” he said.

“Riverlink has provided a fantastic opportunity for business and customers to remain in the heart of Ipswich City — the fact it is on the opposite side of the river to the Nicholas Street development does nothing but compliment the city in terms of its development.”

Mr Bell said if the shopping centre had not been developed, commerce in the city could have been far more negatively impacted than it already had been by delays to the redevelopment.

“I think this is the first stage in some significant opportunity for this city,” he said.

“Council needs to prove to the residents that they can deliver on this project and I think they are.”

– ABC / Baz Ruddick

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