By Aimee Chanthadavong

Retail conditions across Australia continue to deteriorate, which is directly impacting on the growth of retail vacancy levels. And this isn’t expected to improve any time soon.

In order to address the impact of vacancies on retail strips and property values, The Empty Spaces Project, which is funded by he NSW government through Arts NSW and the University of Technology, Sydney, are working with landlords to promote short-term reuses of empty shops and spaces for creative and community development.

Linking on to the global phenomenon of pop-up shops, there are now 26 art in empty shops projects around Australia.

Lyon Group Australia is the latest property group to provide empty commercial spaces at low or no cost for arts activity with Pop-Up Epping in Sydney’s west running through August and September.

GPT Group in Newcastle and Wollongong, Frasers Property in central Sydney, Stockland in Forster, and Cbus Property’s 140 Perth, have all partnered with local creative enterprises on temporary uses for otherwise empty properties.

Speaking to RetailBiz, Lisa Andersen, Empty Spaces Project manager, described the opportunity as a ‘win-win’ situation for both new, creative artists and landlords.

“This is part of the future of our centres. It’ll be much more about a mix or range of experiences given that retail is now closely aligned to the concept of ‘me-tail’. While that’s closely aligned with commercial leases, the Empty Space projects help landlord understand there’s a broader benefit to low or no cost leasing.”

“We’ve designed the legal template so that the artists have a licence to use the space and not a lease, so it doesn’t affect property values. The terms of the agreement are based on days notice. So there’s a lot of flexibility in the licence agreement that has proven to be successful.
“I think the creative space approach is a great example of how you can reinvent a retail strip,” she said.

According to Andersen, all properties have seen improvements in terms of reductions in vandalism and graffiti incidents, lower insurance and maintenance costs, and increased foot traffic around the projects. They have also helped attract a broader potential base of long-term commercial tenants for these empty properties.

“One of the concerns landlords have is they’re afraid the artist won’t move out when they’re asked. But we assure whoever occupies the space, the final decision will be made by the landlord,” Andersen said.

At the same time, the projects are also receiving positive aesthetic responses, giving retailers ideas of new fitout designs.