THE quest to renew the Bega Valley is on.
Renew Australia founder Marcus Westbury held workshops in conjunction with Bega Valley Shire Council at several towns throughout the area last week on the topic of revitalising their commercial retail centres.
Mr Westbury was the force behind Renew Newcastle, which in 2008 started filling the city’s empty retail spaces with creative enterprises with the hope of bringing life back to the increasingly derelict CBD.
He made deals with landlords to allow artists, designers and photographers – anyone with an idea based around handmade work – set up shop in their premises rent free on rolling 30-day agreements to “activate” the area.
Five years later, vacancy rates are down, numerous businesses have been spawned and Newcastle was named by travel guide Lonely Planet as one of the top 10 cities in the world to visit.
“The idea was make the town centre somewhere filled with interesting people doing interesting things, to make it was somewhere you really wanted to visit,” he said.
“It improved the brand value of the whole city.”
Mr Westbury, who now presides over Renew Australia, was invited by BVSC to bring the model to the shire in an attempt to reinvigorate the area.
Despite there being huge demographic differences in population, age and income between Bega and Newcastle, Mr Westbury felt the Renew model was a good fit with the Valley.
“I think this community, and this is only my perception of it from someone who has visited a few times now, is that it’s a really strong artisan community with a lot of incredible ideas,” he said.
Mr Westbury said the Renew model also encouraged young people to stay and start a creative business rather than move on to a larger city.
His first workshop attracted plenty of interest from the local business community, with the Bega council chambers packed with real estate agents, landlords, community groups and shop owners.
Workshops in Bega, Eden, Merimbula and Bermagui were split into separate sessions between the business owners and interested creators, with Mr Westbury noting that Renew Australia acts as an intermediary between the two throughout the process.
“The key things we emphasise to landlords is it won’t cost you anything, it will probably save you money on maintenance and insurance, and any costs incurred as a result of the person being there are paid by that person,” he said.
“The second thing is that there is no opportunity cost, if you get a better offer, you take it.
“We are not there to block you from taking a good offer, we are there to enhance your space and the whole street.”
There was a positive response from those involved in the workshops.
Chris Maxted from the Bega Chamber of Commerce expressed concern Bega was at the tipping point where empty retail space would begin to drive other businesses from Carp St.
This sentiment was echoed by others at the Bega workshop and there was a general consensus that bringing Renew to Bega was needed.
Rebecca Bogie from BVSC said the council was keen to see Renew succeed in Bega and wanted empty shops filled under the scheme by Christmas.
For more information contact Ms Bogie on firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 6499 2150.