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City trader groups under cloud as united body mooted

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City precinct groups and traders associations could have their funding cut under a council plan to create a new agency tasked with transforming the city into South Australia’s premier retail destination.

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City councillors will on Thursday night be asked to provide feedback on a proposal to appoint a council-funded, independent board tasked with overseeing marketing, investment and business growth across the city and North Adelaide.

It comes as city businesses prepare to grapple with new retail developments across suburban Adelaide, including Burnside Shopping Centre’s $360 million upgrade, King William Road’s $6 million redevelopment and Kaufland’s upcoming $23.5 million transformation of the old LeCornu site on ANZAC highway.

The proposed agency, called the Adelaide Economic Development Agency (AEDA), would oversee the eight not-for-profit precinct groups and traders associations that currently receive annual council funding to represent the interests of residents and businesses in their respective local areas.

In a report published on Friday, council staff argue precinct groups are not best equipped to drive spending in the city as they rely on unskilled volunteers, lack connection to “city vision and initiatives” and they have an “inability to make a material difference”.

In comparison, the report argues an independent citywide agency would deliver a “seamless and streamlined support for customer experience” that could “position the city as the premier retail destination in the state”.

A council survey of precinct group chairs, precinct committee representatives and the chief executive officers of allied organisations found 54 per cent support for an alternative model of precinct and mainstreet management.

The council report states the AEDA would be funded by general rates and be comprised of up to eleven board members appointed by the council, including one elected member.

Precinct groups and traders associations would not have decision-making powers under the AEDA, but they could provide feedback and suggestions about their local areas through an agency-appointed “business development manager”.

“The value of community advocates and the work of the existing Precinct Groups is not discounted in this new structure,” the report states.

“This engagement process is designed to support local area input and knowledge, but (precinct groups) do not have decision making power, allowing AEDA to manage its strategic priorities whilst considering local concerns and opportunities.”

Associate director of economic development and innovation Matt Grant told InDaily the city council was in the process of assessing “various options from a governance and financial modelling perspective” in relation to how precinct groups would operate in the future.

“The City of Adelaide is working closely with Precinct Groups as we progress this project,” he said.

“We value the role that precinct groups play.

“They have been and will continue to be part of the decision-making process as city wide business models are discussed.

The call to appoint a single economic agency to manage marketing and economic growth in the city has been led by Adelaide Business Collective – a not-for-profit group whose membership is comprised of over 175 city businesses.

The collective’s executive officer David West told InDaily “businesses all over the city” wanted to make sure they remained competitive as online sales and suburban retail developments threatened to lure shoppers away from city streets.

He said city businesses wanted the council to adopt better marketing strategies to attract foot traffic, as well as a “business voice” to ensure concerns were represented at a decision-making level.

“We want to see the city become more competitive as we think we can do that by having a citywide approach to it,” he said.

“You do want to make sure there’s local representation because the small businesses in those areas have to be engaged in the process.

“But, if you take West End (Association) for example, not all the businesses say on Hindley Street or Currie Street are members of that association, so our idea is that you should be including all people and engaging them a broader body.”

Adelaide West End Association president Andrew Wallace said his association was also in support of a single citywide agency that “may or may not replace precinct groups”.

“Depending on what the model is, we think a recast version of precinct groups could be a good thing because we’re certainly aware that some parts of the city aren’t covered by precinct groups,” he said.

“If you’re on Pirie Street there’s no precinct group that you could join or get involved with to actually improve your part of the city, so this would be a good opportunity to get a more equitable spread across the city and start to do this in a more professional way.

“Precinct groups have done lots of good things over the last few years, but when you have a grant that’s relatively limited and some groups have limited membership… you can only do what you’re resourced to do.”

Wallace said the appointment of the AEDA “could be quite a big game changer for business in the city”, but warned “there has to be a voice for the local delivery”.

“We already suffer from the politics within the existing council when sometimes we see an unfair distribution of attention across the city,” he said.

“We’re doing pretty well at the moment in the west – there’s lots of attention being focussed on us – but there’s been times when there’s been none and with elected members sometimes it’s difficult to get them interested.

“I think getting the local representation as well as the skill mix on the board if really important.”

InDaily also contacted spokespeople from the East End Coordination Group, City South Association and Gouger Street Traders Association, who said they had been consulted about potential governance and financial changes but were yet to receive detail.

Grant said precinct groups were incorporated associations and “it is up to their members as to whether they would continue if a citywide model was adopted”.

“This is an early opportunity for Elected Members to provide feedback on city wide business models and there’s still a great deal of work to be done as we work through this process,” he said.

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