Plaza dust bowl

DUST clouds, droning construction noise and a collapsed ceiling are forcing small businesses under at the Plaza Arcade, claim traders.

The Hay Street mall arcade is in the middle of being renovated and traders says customers are being driven away by what the mall’s owner describes as “exciting renovations”, with problems literally reaching breaking point on Friday, October 13, when part of a ceiling collapsed.

The Arcade is owned by Singapore-based Starhill Global Reit and is managed locally by Colliers.

The mall’s half-closed for the $6 million redevelopment to bring in big retailer Uniqlo, but small businesses say no customers want to use a mall that looks like a construction site, and is occasionally so full of dust that people need masks or have to cover their faces with their clothes.

Already some shop owners have had to lay off staff and it could be a grim Christmas for remaining retailers, with Starhill refusing to let them out of their leases even though some retailers claim trade has dropped by 80 per cent.

• People cover their mouth as a dustbowl erupts in The Plaza Arcade in Perth’s Hay Street mall. Photos supplied

Boiled over 

After Perth MP John Carey got on Colliers case in August (“Fair Trade Blocked”, Voice, August 12, 2017), some shop owners were offered a rent reductions (we’ve heard between 15 and 30 per cent), but on the condition they signed confidentiality agreements.

This week frustrations boiled over and one of the owners sent out a mass email telling the Voice and local politicians how bad the situation was getting.

In the email chain, Plaza Cameras owner Brad Kirk says that on Friday, October 13; “I have not been able to talk to customers as the noise was so loud”.

He couldn’t get Colliers’ agent on the phone, a common complaint we’ve heard from many of the business owners.

He wrote that fellow retailer Outback Red were doing a “live feed shopping session when the noise started”.

The shop does online shopping feeds directly with China with thousands of people watching, keen to buy Akubra hats or RM Williams boots.

The construction noise was so loud Friday they had to cut the feed mid-stream.

The complaints range from the dire to the farcical: one email from a business owner to Colliers’ agent said “you really need to talk to your marketing team.

“Yesterday’s Facebook feed promoted Kamil’s hairdresser [which] has closed down. It really doesn’t get any worse than this”.

• A woman covers her face in the Plaza Arcade. Photo supplied

The email to Colliers from Alan and Adele Williams from Outback Red, which has been trading in Perth for nearly 30 years, said: “I get the impression that you guys think once Uniqlo opens that everything will be ok.

“You will still have over half of the old arcade with very disgruntled shop owners who have seen their livelihoods ripped from them. I think you and the owners need to implement some sort of effective strategy to get the existing owners back on side otherwise the toxic feeling in the arcade will never go away.

“Firstly you need to convince the current owners that there is a bright and strong future in the Arcade; show us the plans on how the arcade will look when finished try and get us excited about the future then we are more likely to begin to look further in to the future than just to the end of the lease.

“I guess I am just about at the begging stage. Please do something positive, give us something we can work with. I implore you to get some of us involved you may be surprised that there is more to the arcade than just Uniqlo there is some very clever people down here…use our talent, [don’t] squash it.”

Perth councillor Reece Harley, one of the people CC’d into the frustrated email chain, wrote back to tell Colliers’ agent to “go back to your owners at Starhill and advocate for some greater attention, flexibility and support for Plaza Arcade small businesses.

“I was speaking last week with Kamil about the way he was treated and his subsequent exit from the arcade.

“Rents are still not reflective of the dire situation which has been facing operators for months now.”

Cr Harley says compensation for existing retailers should be accounted for in the redevelopment budget.

“The small family businesses of Perth’s arcades are the hallmark of our city, it’s what sets us apart from many large suburban shopping centres. [They] need to be treasured and supported, not put out of business.”

In a response to a half dozen questions from the Voice, Colliers has downplayed the incidents, claiming the dust incident was a one-off (disputed by traders who said it was regular routine to clean the fine layer of dust off their shelves and products) and saying they maintain “an open line of communication with tenants” which “includes daily phone and email contact” (whereas owners have repeatedly said they can’t get anyone on the phone).

by DAVID BELL

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