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Gateway Plaza Leopold

Vicinity Centres’ Gateway Plaza is about to position itself as the dominant sub-regional on the Bellarine Peninsula, an hour or so out of Melbourne. Although it’s not a greenfield development, in reality it fits the bill of one. The Peninsula is growing; the trade area numbers are already established and in the not too distant future Gateway Plaza will become the full-line regional. This is just the beginning…

Just over an hour or so, driving south-west out of Melbourne, you come to Geelong; take a sharp left and you’re on a peninsula surrounded by Port Phillip Bay, Corio Bay and Bass Strait. It’s called the Bellarine Peninsula – Bellarine being an Anglicised version of the local Wathaurong people’s word for ‘elbow’.

It’s a region with a colourful past. Originally occupied by the clans of the Wathaurong nation prior to European settlement in the early 19th century, it was where the convict William Buckley, on escaping from the Sullivan Bay settlement, evaded capture for some 32 years by living with the indigenous people. In 1835, John Batman used Indented Head on the extreme eastern tip of the peninsula as his base camp when he returned to Tasmania (then Van Diemen’s Land) for more supplies. It was in the same year (1835) that Buckley was captured, later to be pardoned, and subsequently given the position of interpreter to the indigenous population.

By 1850 the peninsula was known as the ‘granary’ of the colony, and Portarlington at the north-eastern tip of Bellarine became a major player in the wheat industry.

As early as the 1870s the Bellarine Peninsula established itself as a tourist destination, with Melburnians arriving by paddle steamer to enjoy the many beaches, swimming and fishing, to the extent that the coastal towns became major holiday resorts. The trend continues to the present day with the highly popular Sea Change television series being filmed at Barwon Heads and other parts of the area.

But today, the Bellarine Peninsula is far more than an idyllic holiday place, a weekend escape or a sojourn destination for the big-city dwellers just down the road.

Today the motorway systems, the road infrastructure peeling off the freeways serving the various townships, the wineries, the golf courses, the beaches, all have transformed the peninsula into a lifestyle region, and it’s burgeoning population flowing out from Geelong itself all contribute to the generation of its own solid economy.

Population growth in towns such as Leopold, Drysdale and Ocean Grove are way above the average for the state and the sector at the front of this growth is young families with children.

Vicinity Centres’ Gateway Plaza sits at the western end of the Bellarine Peninsula; it’s well named, as it really is the ‘gateway’ to the region. Gateway Plaza has a high-profile location on the Bellarine Highway, the main traffic route linking Geelong with Ocean Grove, Point Londsdale and Queenscliff. (See map, below).

You don’t have to be Einstein to see why Vicinity Centres is currently expanding this centre and investing $79 million into the new Gateway Plaza. As it stands today, Gateway Plaza is a small centre consisting of a Coles supermarket and some 20 external shops facing the car park; one might call it a neighbourhood centre, not even large enough to make Mini-Gun status. Similar centres are dotted around the peninsula serving the various townships, but for major shopping the city of Geelong is still the destination. Today there is no discount department store on the Peninsula and none of these smaller centres reach Little Gun status. The Bellarine Peninsula is crying out for some up-to-date retail facilities; as yet it doesn’t have a regional or even a sub-regional shopping centre.

It will have shortly.

Some 40,000 cars a day pass Gateway Plaza as it sits in its high-profile location aside the Bellarine Highway.

The very nature as well as the whole character of the centre will change as it’s expanded to become a fully fledged sub-regional serving the entire peninsula. The largest-format Bunnings Warehouse opens its doors, along with a brand new Kmart, a new Aldi and a fully refurbished and expanded Coles supermarket. A brand new fresh food precinct has been designed and 45 specialties will be added, all producing the new 33,369m2 sub-regional, which will have more than 1,000 car spaces. The centre’s positioning as the community focal point will be strengthened by the creation of a new public space – a communal Town Plaza – as well as a new alfresco eating area along with a casual dining precinct.

So Gateway Plaza will take the high ground for regional shopping on the Bellarine Peninsula. By doing so it will position itself, of course, to become the dominant full regional centre in the future.

But that’s the future; it’s the present expansion that clearly indicates the strength of the region. You can tell a lot from the fact that the Bunnings Warehouse, at over 12,000m2, is their largest store format, even bigger than the existing one in the city of Geelong. According to Andrew Marks, Bunnings GM, Property Management, the new store represents an investment of over $28 million. “We’re pleased to be a part of the expansion and redevelopment of Gateway Plaza,” he said, “which represents a great offer for local residents with other retailers joining the Plaza to create a shopping destination in the region.”

The fact that Kmart are opening their first store (and the first DDS) on the peninsula along with the scenario of Aldi competing with Coles in the same centre, are indicative that the region has reached the population levels to warrant a full-line sub-regional centre. Paul Rose, Kmart’s Joint National Property Manager told SCN that they were delighted to be the first full-line DDS on the peninsula. “The new Kmart will showcase our new store layout that is being rolled out nationally,” he said. “The Bellarine Peninsula’s current and future residential growth forecast secures our desire to be servicing this growing community.” The numbers just confirm the obvious.

The Main Trade Area population of 70,000 is forecast to grow to over 84,000 by 2026 with the Primary Trade Area growing by a massive 35% in the same period. The current retail spend in the MTA is $897 million, forecast to grow to $1.5 billion by 2026.

What’s impressive about the peninsula, and in particular the Primary Trade Area surrounding the centre, is that it’s becoming the choice place to live. It’s the lifestyle characteristics that are drawing the new residents, and the socio-economic data is impressive.

Household income in the Primary Trade Area is $79,069, which is 6% higher than the Geelong average. Extend to the Main Trade Area and the highest income levels are in the secondary south-east at $85,781. In the PTA, 67.3% residences are family households, higher than the 64% in Geelong. Compared to Geelong, Gateway Plaza’s MTA records an above-average retail spend: +1.3% for food and +3.6% for non-food. Home ownership in the MTA at 77.5% is +6.3% above the Geelong average.

So the numbers are there: the demographics and the Trade Area statistics all auger well for Gateway Plaza. But numbers are just that – numbers; the new Gateway Plaza’s strength, its trading power, will be generated from much more than that. To really understand the importance of this centre, to fully comprehend what Vicinity Centres is doing here, you have to go back to the Bellarine Peninsula itself.

Port Phillip Bay is an iconic Australian landmark – the Mornington Peninsula forms its eastern side and the Bellarine Peninsula its western one. It’s an almost circular bay with Geelong on its western side bordering the Bellarine Peninsula, and Frankston on its eastern side bordering the Mornington.

Melbourne sits at the top – the northern point of Port Phillip Bay – so from the CBD, to reach Bellarine you drive south-west via Geelong; to get to the Mornington Peninsula it’s south-east via Frankston. Distances and driving times are roughly the same – around an hour or so.

But over the years the Mornington Peninsula has taken the high ground; its wineries are famous, its status as a prestige weekend getaway is established, and its food and wine circuit of the best in the country. But all that means higher costs, whether in terms of food or property and most things in between.

The Bellarine Peninsula, on the other hand, has kept its powder dry! It’s almost identical countryside, with the landscape indistinguishable from Mornington and the beaches, fauna and flora all the same. Yet the Bellarine is less developed, perhaps more pristine, untouched, to the extent that quite often you hear it’s even a preferable alternative. But the Bellarine Peninsula is far from virginal. Its history is long and its townships are established.

Portarlington overlooks Port Phillip Bay with the Melbourne skyline on the horizon to the north. It’s a bustling fishing township, home to a large fishing fleet which catches the famous blue mussels. Further to the east are the townships of Indented Heads and St. Leonards. Queenscliff is one of the largest towns on the Bellarine with its stately Victorian mansions, wide streets and a host of pubs and hotels catering to the busy tourist trade. This is a region forecast to achieve 6 million domestic and 1.5 million international visitors by 2030. The largest township on the peninsula is Ocean Grove on the Barwon River, one of the fastest-growing townships in the region.

Cross the river and you reach Barwon Heads, one of the most sought-after places to live in the whole of the Geelong region. It’s full of great cafés and restaurants, the township is booming and it’s also home of one of Australia’s finest links golf courses.

Wallington, Drysdale and Bellarine are the major townships in the heart of the peninsula and are home to many of the primary producers, farmers and vineyards of the area. Some of Australia’s best produce, wine and goods come from this heartland.

All these townships, and others, are growing significantly faster than the Melbourne and Victorian average. These rapidly growing suburbs have seen dozens of new residential estates open up over the past few years and are now homes to the thousands who work in the Geelong region and the Bellarine Peninsula. Being not much more than an hour away from the Melbourne CBD, they are also becoming popular with people commuting to the big city.

Together, they’ve now reached a stage at which, in retail terms, a large sub-regional shopping centre is demanded. As it stands, the majority of these residents now travel to Geelong for their major shopping. On the way, they pass Gateway Plaza proudly standing adjacent to the Bellarine Highway, which in turn leads straight into Geelong.

Vicinity Centres’ Gateway Plaza is poised to provide for the need. It’s much more than just an extension; it is in fact the development of a brand new centre. Some of the external shops will remain but will be remixed, and the majority of the centre will now become a conventional internal mall structure. In mall terms it’s a T-shaped mall, with Coles anchoring the stem of the T with Aldi and the Town Square at the ends of the horizontal and Kmart in the centre. (See diagram below)

On opening – it’s a staged development with Stage 1 unveiled late this year – Gateway Plaza will take the high ground on the Bellarine Peninsula shopping scene and will become the retail focal point for the total population. The need is already there; the demand, the population numbers, the socio-economic composition of the Trade Area, are all simply a matter of fact.

On 23 March 2017, Vicinity’s new Gateway Plaza will open, the demand will be satisfied and the centre will assume its position as the dominant retail centre on the peninsula.

From then on in, it’s obvious what will happen. By taking the high ground now, Vicinity will establish Gateway as the major retail player; as the population of the region grows, so will Gateway Plaza. It will undoubtedly become a Prime Regional in time and will make the transition from a large Little Gun into a Big Gun in the not-too-distant future.

How distant? Anyone’s guess, but in our view it will start within five years. Watch this space!

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