Renew Geelong
Geelong Illustrators at work.

Renew Australia’s latest initiative to revitalise Geelong by attracting creative businesses, is already engaging property partners, local entrepreneurs, artisans and creative start-ups.

The Renew Concept Space is the first Renew Geelong space to be activated and officially opened last week. The 300 square metre former bank on Moorabool Street had been vacant for around three years, Renew Geelong project manager, Andrea Bruce, told The Fifth Estate.

Now it is home to 21 artists from the Geelong Illustrators collective; a furnishings repurposing and upcycling business, Built on Enthusiasm; and an artisan producing hand-made moccasins from locally-sourced leather.

The urban revival initiative has been jointly funded by the City of Geelong and the Victorian Government. Retail centre Market Square and Up Property have signed up as the first property sector partners.

The spaces being made available by the partners, in addition to the Moorabool Street property, include commercial spaces at Market Square and in the Belcher Arcade, owned by Up Property and slated for redevelopment. The Melbourne-based real estate investment company has been active in the Geelong property market since 2004, and recent acquisitions include the new Geelong Advertiser office.

It proposes to convert the two-level Belcher Arcade into a mix offices, retail and hospitality. As part of the Renew Geelong project it will provide space for up to five new businesses or projects in the immediate future.

“Renew Geelong is a great initiative and one that is very aligned with Up Property’s ideals, values and ideology,” Up property group investment and asset manager, Ryan O’Grady, said. “We are excited to be able to give back to the community which we have been invested in since 2004, and provide an opportunity for local entrepreneurs to flourish.”

At Market Square, which currently comprises more than 80 retailers across fashion, health and beauty, food, services, electronics and homewares, a number of empty shops facing the street have been selected to be part of the Renew initiative.

Ms Bruce said the focus is on activating spaces that will increase foot traffic. There are also “activation hours”, agreed with centre managers and the owner, that will have to be met by businesses and creative industry entrepreneurs taking up space in those shopfronts. The hours, include standard business hours, Friday evenings until 9.30pm, Saturday and Sunday hours, and reflect the operating hours of the broader retail centre.

The owners regard their engagement as part of a broader social responsibility approach, according to Market Square assistant centre manager, Lurline Lett.

“Market Square Shopping Centre is working hard to lead the way in Corporate Social Responsibility, to ensure we give back to the local community. By supporting emerging artists and performers, charities and community groups we give back to the community that gives to us.”

“We are delighted to be able provide local creatives with a space to trial new and existing business concepts.”

Bruce Harwood, City of Greater Geelong; Renew Australia Chair, Peter Lamell; Renew Australia Manager, Angela Simons; Renew Geelong Project Manager, Andrea Bruce; Deputy Mayor, Peter Murrihy; Cr Pat Murnane. Photo: Jon Hammond

State member for Geelong, Christine Couzens, said she wanted more owners to become engaged.

“I welcome the first two property partners for the Renew Geelong scheme,” she said. “These sites will not only provide all-important spaces for local artists, creative entrepreneurs and organisations to develop and showcase their work, they’ll bring new life and energy to the city.”

“I encourage more property owners to get on board – and encourage Geelong’s creative community to take advantage of these opportunities.”

Ms Bruce said there has already been significant buy-in from the broader Geelong community. People want to see local businesses and start-ups getting ahead and having an opportunity to trial new enterprises.

The focus on creative industries reflects a number of underlying trends.

Firstly, the demographic of the city is changing, she said. Geelong is not only a satellite city for Melbourne, it is also forming an individual identity where creativity is key.

It is Australia’s only UNESCO City of Design, Ms Bruce said.

A broad range of creative industries are looking to use the new spaces, including tailors, graphic artists, social media experts, marketing consultants, arts practitioners and workshop and event organisers.

Together, these types of enterprises result in the kind of “different shopping experience” people are increasingly looking for. It also creates a sense of individual “destination” that increases the draw for tourism, as other places such as Fitzroy in Melbourne have shown.

The overarching goal is to build-up the Geelong community and to boost the local economy.

Spaces are granted on a 30-day license and partnerships and cross-collaborations are already emerging between the enterprises.

“There is a sense of community already,” Ms Bruce said. With 45 applicants currently looking for space, this is bound to grow.

“People are looking for different opportunities and ways to collaborate.”

It is a whole different way of looking at commercial space.

These businesses also align with the growing trend of ethical consumers wanting to know who is producing their goods and the source of the materials.

Many are looking for unique goods out of an urge to purchase and own things that reflect their own sense of individuality. The furnishings upcycler, Built on Enthusiasm, is a good example, offering 1950s radios refurbished with Bluetooth components and upcycled old furniture – all of which reduce waste, while producing unique products.

Art is also becoming more of a mainstream thing.

“Creative practices are becoming more accessible to people, and becoming part of their daily lives,” Ms Bruce said.

A broader social dividend is also emerging. Ms Bruce said the site of the Concept Space, which is located immediately behind a bus stop, used to have a high prevalence of anti-social activity.

Since Renew Geelong moved in, that behaviour has almost disappeared. Young people are coming into the concept space and engaging, and this is something council is looking to leverage, with youth-focused workshops and events, Ms Bruce said.

Council is extremely positive about the future potential.

“The City is proud to support this initiative giving a helping hand to local start-ups whilst increasing vibrancy in our CBD,” City of Greater Geelong mayor, Bruce Harwood, said.

“As a City of Design, this is exactly the kind of initiative we want to become known for and we encourage other property owners to get in touch with Renew Geelong to activate their vacant spaces.”

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