It was the early 1990s. Looking back, it was most likely at the heart of the State Bank collapse – the worst of times. But I had no idea, no inkling.
I was the 10-year-old country-raised kid who was so foreign to – and so frightened of – the city I wouldn’t walk the 60 metres to the corner of Sturt Street to investigate the weird wrought iron tram stop at the end of my line of sight.
I had never met anyone who lived in the City Square. I was only in the city because my grandfather and I would drive from Murray Bridge to ‘the city’ for his work on Wednesday mornings – and that was only because the Ingham’s factory closer at Strathalbyn had closed.
My only recollections of that time that matter are a little café/snack shop a little bit over the road and, due west, there was the tram stop. It was always about 6 am so I don’t remember the tram coming often. And I remember the streets were always empty. It was as if no one lived nearby.
And then Pop and I would take the delivery and drive back up the freeway home, away from the city.
It’s now 2002 – July 2, 2002 in fact – and it’s my first day of work as a cadet journalist at The Advertiser, on the corner of King William Street and Waymouth Street.
I’ve moved from Mount Barker, where I grew up and schooled – just 25 minutes up the Federal Highway – but this genuinely feels like the city. But what kind of city comparatively?
Waymouth Street in 2002 was three old News Limited buildings, an open-air car park and an underdeveloped corner that later became the redeveloped Rendezvous (now Peppers) Hotel. We (the 700-odd newspaper staff) had our special lunches over the road at Manna Café, just next to the Scientology place and down from the bar called Fad that never made money and eventually closed.
This was the total level of activity for one of the most prominent corners in Adelaide just 13 years ago. And not one of my colleagues lived in the city – the inner suburbs of Norwood and Parkside were the places to rent and live.
From 2001 to 2009, the CBD population of Adelaide near doubled – from 12,215 to 20,525 (it is now about 23,000) and this influx of people fundamentally changed the city. Since 2009, another 3000 odd people have moved into the city and the state is targeting 50,000 by 2024 on the back of successful redevelopments of the Convention Centre and Riverbank, the acclaimed new Adelaide Oval development, liquor licencing changes that encourage Melbourne-like laneway activation and planning changes which allow for a higher-density of living than the traditional three-storey communities.
I contend that Waymouth Street is a perfect, decade-long, case study of this change.
In fact, to drill down, I believe Adelaide’s story, and/or revitalisation, is best explained in the story of the General Post Office precinct and the building of Tower One – a commercial office building in Waymouth Street.
In 2007, City Central Tower 1 was opened as South Australia’s first five-star Green Star building, with chilled beams across its 20 floors and a new benchmark for offices.
It’s firstly important to note the Government of South Australia, as part of its renewal energy targets, drove a level of lease pre-commitment – which funded the building – to reward its energy ambitions. It’s also true to note a great number of the development industry fought this initiative, labelling it an (expensive) environmental frolic.
But what is beyond doubt is this inclusion of 31,000 square metres of office space in this dilapidated street changed the economic fortunes of its surrounds. As they say, people go where people are. So let’s treat Waymouth Street as the microcosm for our city. (For players at home, Waymouth Street is the western street, two-fifths north of the central, mile square, created – on sketch paper – by Colonel William Light about 170 years ago.)
Waymouth Street is home to ANZ House, the 20-storey building that houses the offices of Deloitte and also much of the government’s State Development department, Ernst and Young are next door in the flagship City Central corner building overlooking the Town Hall, and Keith Murdoch House stands on the other side – housing News Limited’s SA operation.
This 100 METRE strip of commercial activity has sparked a higher level of retail activity. Three nationally-recognised restaurants now co-exist. The larger of the restaurants, Press, has a smaller brother, Melt, and its own pre-meal cocktail bar out the back, called Proof.
Over the decade to 2015, the old cafes have slowly made way for better food and beverage offerings, new players, new investors and new types of thinking. The latest addition is Jack Greens, a New York-styled salad and soup bar to provide a healthy lunch opportunity for the accountants, auditors and analysts based over the road.
The activity is just now, eight years in, stretching a street behind, a block further west and into the car-park breezeway retail shops that have long been empty and/or of little economic value. I also live in this street. I am fortunate enough to own a 119 square metre apartment that cost less than $500,000 in 2012. It was built as part of a joint federal and state government model mixed tenure building.
The policy question from all of this is what was the formula.
What we do know is that the mild energy policy intervention quickly moved from an expensive, environmental frolic into a game-changing imperative for all socially-minded companies in this space. We also know that the influx of people had a marked – albeit gradual – ongoing impact on all the businesses in the precinct.
It’s also important to note the light-rail tramline was extended north of Victoria Square, past the Town Hall corner, to first the University of South Australia campus on North Terrace (in 2007) and then onto the Entertainment Centre on the city fringe (2010) – allowing more people to move through the CBD.
My considered view is the undeveloped, near-forgotten, 2002 state of Waymouth Street simply created development opportunities that, once unlocked, proved their own potential. The area itself, once unlocked, created its own success. And it continues to do so.
My family’s day-to-day lived experience is what should be attracting people to live in the CBD.
My office is a few steps shy of 500 metres from my door. My wife’s office is just 800 metres away, on the Riverbank where the jogging track provides perfect post work exercise. She runs past the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) and its workers, past the back of new Royal Adelaide Hospital, past the new Adelaide Oval and back down to Adelaide University and the other institutions. The world-famous Adelaide Central Market is three small streets from our apartment in the other direction.
We are within a 10-minute walk to three squares, and two frontages to the Adelaide Park Lands and the spaces within. We have a car that we rarely use, and a scooter that also largely sits idle. Short of some mid-winter rain, Adelaide is the perfect pedestrian city.
My wife is a Finn, who studied in the UK and Dublin before living in Copenhagen and moving to Adelaide. Our apartment life is a perfectly normal European existence, save for under floor heating and a more-concentrated CBD population.
Part of the current population push is best on show in Sturt Street, 40 metres west of where I stood frozen as that 10-year-old, at the highly successful Ergo apartment developments. Two of my best friends live there – they have bought their first home. Both city workers, one is from Naracoorte, the other from Seaview Downs and I think they would love to raise their kids in the city. They are part of the change.
Similarly, the Ergo development has also involved some level of intervention – it is a joint venture with the Local Government Authority and Adelaide City Council, on land held by ratepayers. The project has brought more than 200 people into the city, adding to the gradual population of the city and hopefully attracting more movers as they get to see to the product on offer.
I’m writing this contribution waiting for my son to be born – he was due three days ago but is taking his time.
I wish the world for him. Of course. But amongst those things, I wish that he gets the best times of this city. I hope he gets the life I get to live now, but I also hope he is one of thousands of families making the same life choices.
Our sole ambition for South Australia needs to be as a place of opportunity, where people can make life choices based on what Adelaide has to offer. We want to create this economic activity so that Adelaide is a place where young people can stay or young people can return to after they have left.
My little son can do whatever he likes in his life – I hope the 2035 Adelaide we all build is good enough to keep him.
Matt Clemow is General Manager, Committee for Adelaide