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Renew Adelaide ventures stand up against CBD retail hit

Business

A new focus on Central Market activations and continued interest from prospective entrepreneurs has seen Renew Adelaide weather the pandemic storm, with the not-for-profit’s job creation up nearly 60 per cent last financial year.

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The City Council-funded organisation – which links CBD property owners with prospective tenants and offers short-term, rent-free, commercial leases for vacant spaces – on Monday released its annual report for the 2020-21 financial year.

Among the headline figures are a 53 per cent “graduation” rate of its program members to long-term commercial leases, with eight Renew Adelaide businesses successfully moving on from the program in FY21.

The not-for-profit launched another 15 business ventures last financial year, the same number as in FY20.

But the organisation also reports that it created 52.5 jobs and supported 71.5 across 2020-21. This is compared to 33 and 40 for the same metrics the previous year, an increase of roughly 59 per cent.

The annual report also outlines a sharp rise in activations in the Central Market Arcade, an area Renew Adelaide CEO Andrew White said has become a focus for the property organisation.

The arcade is set to be transformed into a $400 million 38-storey retail, office, hotel and residential development by 2025, but construction has been pushed back to the start of June next year.

Six of Renew Adelaide’s 15 ventures in FY21 were located in the Central Market, up from just one in FY20.

“That’s a combination of what’s happened now with the Moonta Street upgrades of Chinatown, but also the fact that there was the scheduled redevelopment of the Central Market Arcade,” White said.

“We felt it was very important to maintain vibrancy and activation in the precinct just because it’s so important.”

White, who took over as Renew Adelaide chief executive in March, said the annual report demonstrated the organisation’s ability to create a high number of jobs relative to funding.

“Our funding agreement is $225,000 per annum, and so the return on investment just in job creation is, I think, really strong,” he said.

“Particularly in the middle of a pandemic when people are losing jobs and closing down businesses.

“The fact that we’re able to achieve a graduation rate of 53 per cent and create 52 jobs I think is a real good achievement.”

However, the pandemic has also brought its fair share of challenges to the not-for-profit.

The number of ventures to leave the Renew Adelaide program and vacate their space increased from five to eight in 2020-21.

“There’s always going to be a turnover of businesses,” White said.

“We had a stronger graduation rate [in FY21] … but certainly there were some businesses that unfortunately closed down during that COVID period.”

Reports detailing retail vacancy rates have consistently shown the Adelaide CBD lagging behind the suburban high streets in the pandemic recovery.

White said one of the key issues for Renew Adelaide after COVID-19 first hit the state was finding enthusiasm for new CBD business ventures.

“We had a lot of activations and work in the pipeline that all had to basically stop in April of 2020,” White said.

“By the time you get back into it, you have to sort of A: assess what the landscape is and B: start to drive that enthusiasm and interest again.

“But as far as the amount work and enthusiasm that we were able to generate after that period was very surprising and positive.”

Renew Adelaide is currently fielding nearly 300 expressions of interest for new business ventures, according to the annual report.

Asked about how the organisation planned to resolve the disparity between the expressions of interest and the number of new ventures it launched last year, White said State Government funding and more awareness about Renew Adelaide from landlords would greatly help the organisation expand its operations.

“We need to continue getting people into the program on the property side and getting property partners to come to Renew Adelaide to activate their spaces,” he said.

“We’re also in the process of looking for more funding … we’re in constant conversations with the State Government and we’ll continue to do so.”

Renew Adelaide’s sole funder, the Adelaide Economic Development Agency, last week announced it had renewed its $225,000 funding agreement with Renew Adelaide for this financial year.

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