Opinion Feature Stories

Sydney’s retail heart is changing. What is the future of CBD retail?

Bridget Fea heads up Brookfield’s National Retail Division and is looking after the leasing of its $2 billion Wynyard Place development. In this opinion piece, she looks at the transformation of George Street and how things are changing in Sydney’s CBD retail market as well as some of the trends emerging. 

The heart of Sydney’s retailing district is shifting rapidly as the smart money puts location, exposure and resilient pedestrian traffic at the forefront of their new store and expansion strategies. 

Buoyed by the strength, appeal and exposure of the city’s newly pedestrianised George Street – where the recently installed light rail has ended a decades-long traffic choke – big name brands such as Nespresso, George Jensen and the newly refurbished Louis Vuitton are leading the transformation. 

The wide-open spaces of George Street and its high people movements provide everything good retail strategies demand. 

Have we seen a pandemically-led pause in retail leasing demand? Sure – it’s hard to strike deals when everyone is home. 

But as Australia’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis is held high on the world stage and white-collar workers increasingly return to their places of business, optimism in the Sydney CBD is re-emerging.

Australian retailers have had a lot to take on board in recent years; fires, floods, the arrival of Amazon and the ever-dynamic competition of online retailing. But our retailers are resilient. And they are changing. Getting the basics right has never been more important: location, product, relevance, exposure, traffic. 

Our leasing campaign for approximately 6,000m2 of premium retail space within the $2 billion Wynyard Place development, for example, has given us the opportunity to collaborate with retail tenants and help unlock new business potential for them. We have already secured major flagship retailers on the George Street, and are headlong into the leasing up of our specialty retailers for the main Wynyard concourse and lower concourse levels. 

Not surprisingly, the conversations we are having with retailers have changed since we first sat down together but there are three key ingredients that have enduring and consistent appeal: exposure, traffic and productivity. 

At Wynyard Place retailers will get exposure to resilient pedestrian traffic in one of city’s most visited thoroughfares (Wynyard attracts around 150,000 commuters a day at its peak), and an opportunity to concentrate their expansion on smaller stores with in-demand products to improve sales productivity and profitability. 

The upgraded concourse at Wynyard will feature retail spaces ranging from 30 to 100 square metres. By utilising these premium, smaller and highly trafficked spaces, retailers can potentially lower their overheads and test new products or services to diverse audiences. 

In addition, Wynyard Place – which is also part of the George Street transformation story – has been strategically planned to be part of the daily fabric. That simply means we have developed it as a wholistic offering, providing our tenants with outstanding everyday amenity through good food, good services and easy access. 

NAB, Allianz and Brookfield will make their new business homes in the tower above the concourse and in doing so will bringing thousands of potential customers to the concourse daily. The retail amenity is a win for the tenants, and the tenants are a win for the retailers. 

The transformation of George Street simply couldn’t have come at a better time. The reinvention of its spaces – pre, post and during the pandemic – is allowing retailers to adapt to not only the shifting retail trends of a pre-pandemic consumer environment, but one that looks to a future beyond COVID-19. 

We cannot deny that the coronavirus caused retailers to pause and reflect. But out of that reflection has come new conversations and strategies that place what has always been true in retail into practice; location, location, location. 

About the author

Bridget Fea

Bridget Fea, National Retail Director, Brookfield Properties.

Bridget heads up Brookfield’s National Retail Division and is looking after the leasing of its $2 billion Wynyard Place development.

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