COMMERCIAL: The City of Melbourne has launched a plan to make empty storefronts available to artists, creators and entrepreneurs in an attempt to help struggling businesses and commercial hubs bounce back from COVID-19.

Commercial property owners, leasing agents and businesses with vacant or underused spaces are being called on to make them available for free or at minimal charge to those looking to launch a small business or artistic project. 

Council aims to fill at least 75 shopfronts, in areas with the highest vacancy rates across the city, including Lygon Street in Carlton, Docklands and the eastern end of the CBD.

The intention is to reinvigorate these areas that have been described as “dead” in the wake of the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.

“Through flexible, short-term agreements, we will be creating hubs of activity that support important sectors, create jobs, and bring back the buzz,” Lord Mayor Sally Capp said. 

“As we bounce back and our streets fill with action again, initiatives like these will help us build consumer confidence and ultimately encourage longer-term commercial leases.

Similar strategies have been rolled out elsewhere in Australia in the past with encouraging levels of success. Some of the areas undergoing the treatment have included Geelong, Brisbane, Townsville, and Oxford Street in Sydney. 

Between 2008 and 2019, an initiative by Renew Newcastle helped the city bounce back from the closure of the BHP Steelworks that left more than a third of shops on the city’s main street vacant. 

In that time, 264 people took advantage of the scheme across 82 properties, with almost two thirds reporting success with their businesses. Of them, 30 new business-owners went on to sign commercial leases with the buildings they started in.

An Independent economic study showed that $10.80 was returned to the community for every dollar invested in the Renew Newcastle program.

As part of the council and Victorian government’s $100 million Melbourne City Recovery Fund, $2.6 million has been set aside to assist with the project and help cover the costs of four organisations tasked with connecting property owners with artists and entrepreneurs. 

“We can’t do this alone, so we’re calling on property owners and businesses to help us by temporarily offering up their unused city shopfronts,” Ms Capp said. 

Individuals, managing agents or property owners with vacant or underused spaces are encouraged to contact the City of Melbourne. 

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