Jul 18

Wollongong retailers out of pocket

Construction works in Crown Street Mall have angered retailers. Picture: SYLVIA LIBERWOLLONGONG ADVERTISER

The end of disruptive construction work in Crown Street Mall can’t come soon enough for disgruntled retailers.

For more than 18 months, apart from when work ceased for three months last summer, shopkeepers have put up with noise, dust and construction fences.

The result has been a major drop in customers, with at least six mall businesses relocating or closing down during the $22.5 million mall redevelopment works.

To add insult to injury, Wollongong City Council announced last week that the work would not be completed by the October 31 deadline. The council’s infrastructure and works director Mike Hyde said heavy rain had caused delays, but the works would be finished by November 11, with the official opening on November 22.

The news was too much for the owners of Hideaway Cafe, who closed their business on October 30 and will not reopen until November 13.

While they are also renovating their kitchen, Jo Zhuang, wife of owner Jason, said they would lose more money by staying open.

“If we close, all we need to pay is rent and fixed costs like insurance,” she said.

Mrs Zhuang said since the construction work blocked easy access to the cafe a few weeks ago, business had halved.

“We’re very frustrated. We can’t even pay the rent.”

The cafe had five part-time staff and Mrs Zhuang said they had kindly agreed to take leave without pay for two weeks. She called on the council to provide compensation.

Businesses near the cafe have also been adversely affected, including The Tibetan Shop, Mr Quickfix engravers and Michael’s Barber Shop.

The Tibetan Shop’s Ting Xiao also wants compensation, saying customer numbers had fallen dramatically.

Mr Quickfix owner Jim McDonogh said in the last few weeks he had made $192 a week and $153 a week and less than $300 a week before that – not enough to cover weekly rent of $300.

Mr McDonogh said the mall work had disrupted the CBD and the council had mismanaged the project.

He said it was absolutely disgraceful that the construction workers did not know where services were located and overengineering had added significantly to the cost.

“The council has had absolutely no feelings towards the [mall] businesspeople … we’ve had no reduction in rent, no compensation from council,” Mr McDonogh said.

Mr Hyde said the timeframe was arranged to retain shopping seasons in summer.

“It could have been done a lot quicker but it would have had a much greater impact on the economy of the CBD of Wollongong,” he said.

“We were given the winter periods when you get the rain.”

Mr Hyde said the GPT shopping centre finished on time but didn’t have the same budgetary constraints as the council, which couldn’t ask the contractor to do overtime shifts.

“The contractor’s allowed to have an extension due to rain, technically he would have to late December to finish but to his credit he’s achieving 98 per cent by Friday night [October 31].”

Mr Hyde said the mall project was complex, with almost every corner of the mall dug down between one to three metres, with masses of concrete removed to allow for the trees to be planted.

“That’s tested the tolerance of shop owners with weeks and weeks of jackhammering. It’s been a very challenging project.”

He denied the mall was overengineered – it met all the standards and was designed to future-proof the mall, with the water main much improved.

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