A thriving cultural and retail destination, rich in history and alive with a mix of local and international tourists. That's how one might have described Sydney's Circular Quay, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic that turned business, retail, travel and everyday life as we knew it upside down.
While Circular Quay hasn't been alone in its fight to keep retailers alive and visitors active throughout the pandemic, it’s combination of tourism-led retail, amenities and attractions left it particularly vulnerable to the impacts of the virus, says Aaron Gaida of CI Australia (CI). As the lead on the Transport for New South Wales (TfNSW) commercial property portfolio managed by CI – which includes overseeing all retail leasing and administration for Circular Quay’s commercial premises - Aaron and team have played an integral role in assisting operators to overcome the challenges of the past 12 months.
“Many were operating solely to service international visitors and tourism attractions, some of which have unfortunately had to close their doors indefinitely. Those that have remained open continue to face considerable hurdles with income for 2020 down 80% from the prior year. This speaks to just how pertinent the effects of COVID-19 have been on Sydney’s tourism sector, and by extension the property and business sectors," he said.
Aaron added, "Approximately 70% percent of retailers are currently either temporarily or permanently closed, some due to COVID and some due to not deciding to renew leases. We are working to showcase the current leasing opportunities to suitable active tenants, but the international travel restrictions, business uncertainty and particularly, the short lease terms on offer, are presenting challenges. Luckily however, these challenges [such as the short term leasing options] are due to a valid reason that’s priming Circular Quay for an even stronger come back in future."
That reason is a high-profile redevelopment and renewal of the precinct that TfNSW has embarked on in collaboration with the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment and other NSW Government agencies. Currently in its second phase (commenced in July 2020), TfNSW plans to eventually select a preferred design partner for the transformative project. As "an opportunity to inject new life into one of Australia’s most recognisable places", TfNSW is planning enhanced public spaces, a revamped transport interchange and new ferry wharves, an upgraded train station, public art and cultural activities, a refreshed retail and dining offering and more.
"This significant investment and transformation of Circular Quay will be a major drawcard for future commercial and retail tenants, visitors and residents. Not only will Circular Quay retain its current strengths of prestigious views and location, it will be recalibrated to a world-class destination with leading amenity and infrastructure. The impending return of international travel and easing of restrictions will only serve to boost the renewed interest in Circular Quay. Add to that a number of luxury residential and commercial developments underway in the area, and Circular Quay looks set to return to its former glory," said Aaron.
Those projects include high-profile residential towers such as Landream's harbour-side 'Opera Residences', and AWH Group’s $2 billion mixed-use ‘One Circular Quay’.
AMP Capital's Quay Quarter Tower precinct is also underway, touted as "Sydney's newest urban neighbourhood". Including a highly anticipated office tower at 50 Bridge Street and a recently refurbished AMP Building on 33 Alfred Street, Quay Quarter Tower will also include a boutique laneway precinct, high-end retail, restaurants and a luxury 106-apartment development. Other major commercial developments include Lendlease’s 53-storey office tower at 174-186 George Street, set to house US tech powerhouse Salesforce, and a further premium $1 billion office tower at 55 Pitt Street led by Mirvac.
The increase in workers, visitors and residents these developments bring will be supported by improved transport infrastructure including the CBD and South East Light Rail. Already catering to the increasing number of employees returning to the office following remote working arrangements, the Light Rail links the Quay seamlessly through the CBD, to Central, onto Moore and Randwick.
So while the Quay may not currently be as picturesque as the post cards dictate - compounded by the challenges of the past 12 months – it’s clear TfNSW intends to re-imagine and deliver an ‘outstanding environment’ which truly is ‘Australia’s waterfront to the world’.