Business groups at odds with Premier Daniel Andrews over Melbourne CBD revival

He said Labor’s election pledge to pour $34 million into live music venues over the next four years would also help deliver sell-out crowds for gigs.

But business groups have called for a more ambitious plan to boost daytime use of the CBD and encourage more tourists and international students to return to Victoria.

Three-day office push

Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra said Melbourne was having little problem getting people into bars and theatres in the evenings and on weekends, but daytime trade left a lot to be desired.

He wants public and private-sector employees to come into the office three days a week and says the return-to-the-office push “needs to come from every leader, whether they’d be public sector or private sector”.

“If they’re coming back in for three days a week across the board, it’s going to make a meaningful difference to how the CBD feels, and therefore the viability of some of the businesses that rely on it,” Mr Guerra told The Australian Financial Review.

Andrew McKellar, chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, backed Mr Guerra’s proposal and said state governments should be leading by example.

“With the office occupancy rate in Melbourne’s CBD still the lowest among state and territory capitals, state and local governments need to be pulling out all the stops to encourage tourists and workers to return,” he said.

Melbourne’s Chinatown in the afternoon of Friday, November 4. Elke Meitzel

The Victorian head of employer association Ai Group, Tim Piper, said it was incumbent on the City of Melbourne and the Victorian government to “get people back into the offices” and using the city’s services as quickly as possible.

Mr Piper said creating a vibrant CBD during the day was essential to attracting tourists and international students to the city, which in turn would boost the whole Victorian economy.

“The state government needs to work jointly with property owners, with the City of Melbourne and with businesses to make sure that there’s a long-term revitalisation package,” he said.

City of Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp said empty storefronts were still an issue for the city, with vacancy rates well above the pre-pandemic level of 5 per cent and hovering around 17 per cent.

But she said foot traffic was rising and major events were attracting large crowds.

“We’ve used our events as a major strategy for bringing people back after COVID,” Ms Capp said.

“We know that we were told to stay at home for two years, and in bringing people back, there’s no mandate to come back, so we’ve really got to go out of our way to attract people back.”

Recent highlights for the City of Melbourne include 100,000 people visiting the city for The Antipodes Festival in October, 90,000 attending the MCG for the T20 cricket match between India and Pakistan that same month, and a sold-out 100,024 attendance at September’s AFL Grand Final, which marked the biggest crowd since 1986.

More broadly, night-time pedestrian activity was at 130 per cent of pre-COVID levels in Southbank between July and October 2022, while foot traffic near Town Hall was at 87.9 per cent of pre-COVID levels from Monday, November 7 to Friday, November 11.

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