Active frontages are directing NSW councils' urban strategies to improve cities, with Wollongong City Council the latest to propose a facade upgrade program.
The council’s draft policy, which has been on public exhibition for a month, explores an incentivised initiative to upgrade building facades and shop fronts in Wollongong in a bid to attract more people to the regional city.
The project, titled the Facade Rejuvenation Program, will be a key component of an overall strategy for the council to revitalise Wollongong’s city centre, contributing to the social and economic growth of the area.
The council has proposed a dollar-for-dollar financial incentive whereby it will cover as much as 50 per cent of upgrade costs up to a maximum of $20,000 for private property owners looking to restore their building facades. This will then align with a budgetary cap of $300,000 for each of the next two financial years.
Facades provide people with a first impression of neighbourhoods and their businesses districts with research suggesting that high quality facades and shop fronts can encourage people to spend more time in an area. The council also noted international studies that reported visually improved streetscapes have a strong correlation with low vacancy rates.
Under the proposed Facade Rejuvenation Program, eligible upgrades would include the restoration of exteriors, repainting buildings and windows, the removal or relocation of air conditioning units, the removal of roller shutters and security grills and the repair and replacement of awning structures.
The proposal came about through a 2012 audit where the council recognised that several city centre building facades required improvement with the project set to support a portion of Wollongong between Globe Lane and Crown Street bounded by Railway Parade to the west and Corrimal Street to the east.
There is also further financial assistance available to property owners who are seeking to remove air conditioning units or make their buildings more accessible.
To develop the program, Wollongong Council consulted with Bankstown City, the City of Canada Bay, and the City of Sydney Councils, all of which have conducted Facade Rejuvenation Programs, The council also made site visits and undertook research with building owners, operators and real estate agents.
“This draft policy is part of an overall project to improve the overall look and feel of our city centre. It’s another key City Centre Revitalisation initiative by Council,’’ Wollongong City Lord Mayor Councillor Gordon Bradbery said. “The concept behind this has already been put into practice by a number of other councils including the City of Sydney. You only have to walk through Redfern’s shopping precinct to see the new lease of life their façade renewal project has provided.”
The Property Council of Australia has commended Wollongong City Council for the proposed program, with the Property Council’s Illawarra policy advisor Amanda Kunkler applauding the initiative.
“We know there are business owners in Wollongong who are keen to invest in their building should this financial incentive be introduced. Some of them own key iconic sites in the CBD so this is a great initiative to improve the appearance of this city and upgrade the value of these building assets,” she said. “With about $500 million worth of property investment currently underway in the city centre this is a great way to assist property owners to upgrade their building.”
Similar programs have been undertaken by Rockdale City Council and the City of Newcastle. Kunkler said the City of Newcastle’s project was a great success – this year, the façade program has led to 37 owners receiving assistance provided they complete works by December 2013.
“In Newcastle they completed the work in clusters to have a great impact on the street scape,” she said. “Approved works included painting, cleaning, repair work and the removal of redundant signage. But with this substantial financial incentive in Wollongong there is the opportunity to make even bigger façade changes.”