A big year ahead at Queen Victoria Market

By Sean Car

As the most turbulent year in the Queen Victoria Market’s (QVM’s) history nears an end, the City of Melbourne’s ongoing renewal of the market will come under even sharper focus in 2021 as its traders try to rebuild.

On November 24, the newly-elected council was due to consider the market’s management company QVM Pty Ltd’s annual report, as well as a quarterly report from council management on its $250 million market renewal program.

While the pandemic has wreaked havoc on so many businesses, few have felt the impacts harder than the market’s traders and manage- ment, with QVM Pty Ltd recording a near $10 million loss of revenue (largely generated from market rent and car parking).

The five-kilometre travel restrictions en- forced by the state government during the height of Victoria’s second wave saw a signifi- cant drop in market patronage, with more than 65 per cent of its usual customer base located beyond that radius.

While fresh food traders were considered an essential service during the lockdowns, general merchandise traders were forced to close, with only 120 of the market’s more than 600 traders operating at the peak of the second wave.

In its annual report, QVM Pty Ltd, of which the City of Melbourne is the sole shareholder, noted that in response to the downturn it had, among a range of measures, implemented:

• A 44 per cent reduction in its permanent workforce through decreased hours and redundancies in events- and tourism-based roles;

  • A 50 per cent reduction in directors' fees from April 2020, as well as cleaning, waste and security;
  • A 90 per cent reduction in head office rent from May 2020; and
  • In conjunction with the council, a trader support package providing 100 per cent rent relief from April 1, 2020 for an initial period of three months.

While rent relief has continued to be provided to its traders on varying levels throughout the pandemic, restrictions on large gatherings has also impacted the market’s revenue streams in 2020, with the Night Market and other events all affected.

But like so many businesses, the market has “pivoted” to support traders through a range of measures, including business mentoring, a new pre-order and pick-up service, international student vouchers and free one-hour parking.

According to its annual report, market visitation was strong in the second half of 2019, which saw more than half of that year’s 10 million visitors through the market, turning around a 14-year decline in visitation.

While the impacts of COVID-19 on domestic and international tourism will continue to see the market target local customers for some time to come, the focus now shifts to the council’s ongoing renewal program in a bid to draw visitors back to QVM.

The City of Melbourne has made no secret of its intention to use the quieter times of the pan- demic to fast track its program, with workers still onsite undertaking the $30 million resto- ration of the market’s heritage sheds.

Construction of the Munro development on the corner of Queen and Therry streets, which will provide 500 car parks for the market, as well as affordable housing, community facilities and new retail, continues to progress.

Following an agreement with City of Melbourne during the 2019-20 financial year, QVM Pty Ltd will be responsible for recruiting and managing the retail/hospitality tenancies in the “Munro Community Hub”.

According to the council’s quarterly report on the renewal program, the Munro car park is expected to be operational by mid-2021, paving the way for QVM’s current car park to be transformed into new open space dubbed “Market Square”.

As of September 30, 2020, renewal program expenditure since 2013 totalled $44.04 million with much of the money spent on shed resto- ration, Munro and general market upgrades, including String Bean Alley.

The immediate focus now turns to Heritage Victoria’s (HV’s) determination on the council’s new market infrastructure plans, with develop- ment applications having been submitted for new Trader and Northern Sheds at Queen St in September.

With this “essential market infrastructure” to provide a range of storage, waste management and trader amenities in an effort to improve safety and logistics at the market, HV is expected to reveal its decision on the applications in December.

But while the plans emanated from the council’s People Panel process, which consisted of traders, customers and other key stakeholders, they aren’t without their critics and all eyes will be pointed to next month’s decision following submissions from a range of parties.

Should the applications be given the all clear by HV, they will be considered by the council at a Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meeting in 2021.

The big question within the council is on the program’s other key piece if infrastructure – the “Queen’s Corner Building”, which is proposed to be located on Queen St near Franklin St un- der the current plans.

The building is proposed to accommodate QVM Pty Ltd’s new offices, as well as munici- pal, retail and hospitality uses to complement the adjoining 1.75 hectares of new public open space at Market Square.

But CBD News understands that no firm decision has yet been made on the building yet as debate within the council remains as to whether the facility, expected to cost around $40 mil- lion, stays or goes.

A spokesperson for the City of Melbourne said further details on the building, including plans, would be released next year.

“The Queen’s Corner Building is part of the agreement between the City of Melbourne and the Victorian Government to revitalise the Queen Victoria Market precinct,” the spokesperson said.

The council will also embark on an expression of interest process in 2021 to seek “suitably qualified and interested parties” to develop the “Southern Site” on Franklin St, which offers a 14,233 sqm of developable space abutting Market Square. This site will also accommodate an additional 500 car parks for market customers.

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