BIG W has pulled out of a $28 million redevelopment of the Goulburn Marketplace, saying the venture was not financially viable at this time.
The move means withdrawal of A&A Lederer’s development application, which would have closed Verner St. The developers will now investigate an “alternative retail operation” but will also go back to the drawing board with plans.
Mayor Geoff Kettle said on Friday he assumed that as the street closure was part of the DA, this was also “off the agenda.” Lederer asset manager Steve Lacey said the company was still committed to a redevelopment but its nature depended on a feasibility study.
The study would determine whether it was feasible to build on the other side of Verner St. If it was, the public land would still be needed.
The 7038 square metre Big W store was the centrepiece of an almost 30,000 square metre project, also including 12 specialty shops.
In a joint statement with Council and Lederer, Big W national property manager Joanne Turner cited a review of its business case and the ‘highly competitive market’ in Goulburn for general merchandise retailing.
The release referred specifically to Kmart and the new Target store.
“Big W is a value-driven discount department store that relies on high sales volumes at low margins and it is disappointing that the Goulburn project is no longer financially viable,” Ms Turner said.
“Big W constantly reviews their growth strategy and while the development of a store in Goulburn is not currently viable, this may be reconsidered in the future.” The discount chain would not be drawn on Friday on why these factors had only now been considered given the Target development was well known for some time.
A spokeswoman referred the Post back to the chain’s “growth strategy review.” Big W also pulled out of a planned store at Moree and delayed construction of another at Vincentia on the South Coast last year. (See separate story).
Big W also declined to comment on whether a level of community opposition influenced the decision.
Meantime, Mr Lacey said in the statement the company was still committed to delivering an “improved shopping experience.” Expansion plans for nearby Aldi would still go ahead.
Asked whether the 12 specialty shops would proceed, Mr Lacey said the company wasn’t committing to anything concrete just yet.
“We’ll review our expansion plans,” he told the Post.
“We still have options to buy properties across the road but we’re not committing to anything until we’ve done the feasibility study, which will also consider the cost of purchasing those properties.” Mr Lacey said he was only informed of Big W’s decision last week and it took him by surprise.
Big W had explained it was due to “economic circumstances.” Council too was only advised of the DA’s withdrawal on Thursday.
Cr Kettle said Goulburn already had the benefit of choice, with three major supermarkets and two retail department stores in the heart of the city.
“We are disappointed that Big W has decided not to proceed in Goulburn at this time, but believe the shopping experience and variety within the CBD is already extensive and will only improve with the redevelopment of Marketplace and Aldi,” he said.
“I look forward to re-engaging in discussions with the developers at some time in the future.” Last June Council called for expressions of interest in public land around Arcade Lane and the rear of the Huntly Arcade. This followed a direct approach from Lederer to buy the 1806 square metre area for its project.
Cr Kettle said consideration of the expression/s was now on hold.
“It’s early days; we only found out on Thursday,” he said.
“Because of the DA’s withdrawal there’s a lot of stuff we need to work out and decide whether we’re proceeding with.” However land title issues with the car park and lane would be sorted out regardless.
Goulburn Heritage Group spokesman John Proctor was cautious about Big W’s pullout.
“At this stage we’re a little confused about what’s going on,” he said.
“I’d like to see some kind of documentation from Council on whether it will proceed in some form. We don’t know.” The group had planned strategies to publicly highlight Verner Street’s closure and what it would mean.
Mr Proctor said if the “threat” of closure remained, the group would still lobby to keep it open.
In mid October group members stood en-masse to object to closed committee council discussions surrounding the sale of public land to the developers.
Consideration of the expressions of interest has been in limbo since then.
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