A group representing Wollongong CBD businesses has backed a call for an investigation into ways of revitalising the Crown Street Mall precinct.
Property company MMJ's commercial director Travis Machan said he had witnessed the "stunning decline" of property values in the mall in recent years, and had watched many potential investors walk away from the city.
"There have been more vacancies in the mall over recent years than ever before, giving it a sense of abandonment which is a terrible image for our city," he said.
"Is this what we want for Wollongong? The city centre should be something the whole community is proud of, but right now it is anything but that."
Wollongong City councillor Cameron Walters has tabled a motion for next Monday's meeting, with an aim of looking at ways to revitalise the Crown Street Mall precinct.
Cr Walters has proposed that council notes the findings of a report by urban planning consultants CIVITAS - commissioned by MMJ on behalf of community and industry stakeholders - looking at Wollongong's CBD.
Cr Walters told the Mercury the CIVITAS report highlighted the need for changes in the city centre, from the increased need for accessibility, encouraging development and investments and enhanced streetscapes.
"With this report in mind and over 15 shops that are vacant in the mall precinct, if this isn't a wake-up call for change, I don't know what is," he said.
"Changing shopping patterns have impacted foot traffic in the city centre, the effects of which have flowed onto decreased small business revenues and increased commercial vacancies.
"According to CIVITAS, a more open and accessible Crown Street Mall will work to bring money back into our city, away from other shopping centres at Shellharbour and Miranda."
Cr Walters' motion further includes that council investigates options for the re-opening of Crown Street Mall for vehicular traffic between Keira Street, Church Street and/or Kembla Street.
Crown Street Mall has been closed to traffic since 1986.
"Converting Crown Street Mall back into the thriving heart of our community will ensure that Wollongong remains a destination that is not only appealing to tourists, but to our own residents as well," Cr Walters said.
Mr Machan is a spokesman for the stakeholders group, which he said felt that the mall has become the "dead heart" of Wollongong, with a high level of vacancies in the commercial and retail spaces.
He said there were measures that could be taken.
These included managed and slow-speed vehicular access on Crown Street and creating a shared 'Park-Once' policy, allowing free two-hour parking; improved night lighting to be more welcoming; and controlled dining zones on Crown Street to support food/beverage operators and increase activity and encourage business trade to occur up to 24 hours a day.
"Leaving the mall as it is will not achieve anything," he said.
Cr Walters also wants to ensure that any opening to traffic doesn't take away from the ability to hold events in the city centre.
"More street parking, a dedicated cycleway and the ability to flexibly close the road for short-term events are all important for the success of this project," he said.
Cr Walters has suggested council staff's findings be brought back to councillors by the end of October.
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