Archive | May, 2011

1 Bligh St: Clayton Utz's new energy-efficient Sydney home

18 May

Julie Levis, Mondaq Business Briefing, May 2, 2011
There’s a greater awareness that a move into energy-efficient buildings can neatly combine several interests of a business – the financial, the human, and the community.

As of winter 2011, Clayton Utz will have a new home in Sydney in 1 Bligh St. As it is designed to achieve a 5 Star NABERS Energy rating and has been awarded a 6 Star Green Star Office Design v2 Certified rating, the first such high-rise in Sydney, we think this is a move which will do exactly that.

GREENING UP: One of four native Australian Banksia trees was hoisted by crane to an outdoor terrace at the nearly completed 1 Bligh Street building in Sydney’s central business district Monday. It is the first Sydney building to be awarded a six-star Green Star environmental rating score. (Angela Brkic/European Pressphoto Agency).

The green features of 1 Bligh Street

1 Bligh Street is built from sustainable construction materials:

90% of the steel used comprises more than 50% recycled content the use of green concrete has meant that nearly 6,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide have not been released into the atmosphere; 80% of the parts usually made from PVC have been replaced with non-PVC materials; and over 90% of the construction waste has been recycled.

Minimising the energy consumption through a double glass façade

For the first time on a high-rise building in Australia, 1 Bligh Street will have a double glass façade – a skin that not only lets in soft natural light, but also minimises the building’s energy consumption.

It does this by stopping direct sunlight from hitting the internal glass. Between the inner and outer windows, computer-controlled sun shades track the sun and automatically adjust themselves. Air is also drawn in through natural convection from lower vents, which further cools down the façade.

A better way to generate electricity

1 Bligh St uses an innovative tri-generation system. Gas and solar energy will generate cooling, heating and electricity, which could reduce our dependence on the electricity grid by up to 25%.

On top of the building, 500 square metres of roof-mounted solar panels will capture solar energy to directly power an absorption chiller to drive the cooling systems, an advanced hybrid of VAV and chilled beam air conditioning technology.

… and to save water

The blackwater recycling technology uses waste water mined from nearby sewer mains and the base building itself, and treats it to a standard allowing it be used in toilets, cooling towers, and plant irrigation.

This means that around 90% of the water demand will come from recycled water, saving one Olympic size swimming pool of water every two weeks.


Barangaroo & Part 3A – Back to the drawing board

13 May

Sean Nicholls, Matthew Moore, SMH, May 13, 2011

Barangaroo to go ahead, but in what form? The Government now says Barangaroo will go ahead, but just what form the development will now take is the subject of the review.

A ”SHORT, sharp” review of the $6 billion Barangaroo development has been ordered by the state government after opponents reached agreement with the developer, Lend Lease, to adjourn Monday’s court action challenging the project.

The Planning Minister, Brad Hazzard, said he will appoint an independent chairman to the review, which he hoped would be completed within two months.

Mr Hazzard moved to resolve disputes over Sydney’s biggest redevelopment when he organised the former Land and Environment court judge Robert Talbot to chair mediation talks on the project yesterday morning.

Under review … Barangaroo. Photo: Peter Rae

The meeting, which Mr Hazzard attended, included Lend Lease, the group bringing the court action, Australians for Sustainable Development, and representatives from the government’s Barangaroo Delivery Authority.

At the talks, AFSD reached a confidential agreement with Lend Lease, the Barangaroo authority and Mr Hazzard to withdraw next week’s action once the government announces the terms of reference for the review.

Mr Hazzard said he would meet with all parties over the next week and ”determine the terms of reference for a short, sharp review of the processes that have gone on to date at Barangaroo”.

Sent to council … Harbord Diggers. Photo: James Brickwood

A spokeswoman for AFSD, Marcelle Hoff, called for the terms of reference to include the size and shape of the development, but it is likely to be limited to a review of the planning processes undertaken thus far.

Ms Hoff, who is also the deputy lord mayor of Sydney, said she was ”absolutely delighted” by the outcome of the mediation talks. ”We feel very positive we will get a good outcome” from the review, she said.

Mr Hazzard called the agreement ”a win for commonsense”. He said planning decisions at Barangaroo had undermined public confidence in the process and criticised a decision by former planning minister Tony Kelly, who changed the law to ensure a favourable result in a previous court case brought by AFSD.

Sent to council … Coogee Bay Hotel. Photo: Janie Barrett

“Decisions like that of the former minister Kelly’s to amend the contamination remediation State Environmental Planning Policy to exclude the development from having to comply with normal clean-up requirements have sent a sense of frustration through the community,” he said.

Before the talks, Lend Lease had insisted the court case would proceed on Monday regardless, but it has now agreed it be delayed before being withdrawn.

It has paid the government more than $100 million for the right to develop the site and has been concerned about the cost of delays.

Sent to council … Eastern suburbs memorial park. Photo: Steven Siewert

Lend Lease’s group head of development, David Hutton, welcomed Mr Hazzard’s proposal ”as a positive step towards providing certainty and momentum for the delivery of the Barangaroo south project”.

Mr Hutton said the agreement meant Australians for Sustainable Development would immediately withdraw other legal challenges to the basement and first commercial tower, known as C4.


As you were on Part 3A development proposals
Sean Nicholls, SMH, May 13, 2011.
BILLIONS of dollars worth of projects that Labor took control of under the contentious Part 3A planning laws will be sent back to local councils by the O’Farrell government. The projects will include the controversial $150 million redevelopment of the Coogee Bay Hotel.

But the Planning Minister, Brad Hazzard, will announce today that the government will deal with about 460 of more than 550 development applications that were not decided under the old system before the change of government.

Most of those will be referred to an independent body, the Planning Assessment Commission.

Mr Hazzard said he wanted to ensure the applications were dealt with ”transparently and openly” in contrast to the previous system, known as Part 3A, which the O’Farrell government is scrapping for all residential, retail, commercial and coastal development.

Part 3A of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act allowed the minister to be the sole consent authority for big projects. Developers were allowed to apply to the minister to have their projects dealt with under the provisions even if they exceeded local planning rules about height, density and zoning.

Among the projects being returned to councils are the proposed redevelopments of the Coogee Bay Hotel, Harbord Diggers and the Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park.

Announcing his decision, Mr Hazzard said the way the previous minister, Tony Kelly, had handled the proposal for the Coogee Bay Hotel as ”really quite concerning”.

Residents strongly opposed the redevelopment but Mr Hazzard said Mr Kelly had failed to make public the fact that he had decided to deal with it under Part 3A just before the state election.

The hotel is in the state seat of Coogee, which was under threat from the Liberals and the Greens. Labor’s Paul Pearce lost the seat to the Liberals’ Bruce Notley-Smith.

”When we examined the paperwork we found that the minister had in fact declared the Coogee Bay Hotel on December 10,” Mr Hazzard said.He said it was ”very, very disappointing to think that the former minister Tony Kelly signed off on the Coogee Bay Hotel and failed to tell anybody right through that 3½ month period and right through the election.”

He said about 63 projects, including the Coogee Bay Hotel proposal, would be sent back to councils ”where they belong”. The government will refund the application fees for these projects.

About 102 residential, retail, commercial and coastal projects will still be dealt with under Part 3A because they had progressed through the planning process to a point where their owners had spent a significant amount of money. The government has committed to developing a new method of determining when a project is of state significance and how those projects will be decided.

Mr Hazzard said he hoped the new approach would be settled on within ”a couple of months”.

Editor’s note- Part 3A was introduced by the previous Labor government in 2005 and gave the planning minister consent authority for major projects deemed to be of state or regional significance or with a budget over $50 million. Certain projects (large job creating, infrastructure and high density housing) were considered too important to be jepodised by petty local politicians. It is a worry that this process has been stopped as it may derail projects for the greater good (inner city high-density housing, etc).

Vale Rollin Schlicht- Architect's first love was painting

4 May

Rollin Schlicht (as I remember him, in the ’70s) as sketched by Brett Whitely.

Studio days … Rollin Schlicht honed his crafts in Australia, Britain, and France.

Rollin Schlicht, 1937-2011

Rollin Schlicht was an architect, painter, printmaker and an architecture and urban affairs commentator. He was also a key member of the Central Street Gallery, which did so much to re-frame debate about the visual arts in Australia during the second half of the 1960s.

Darkly good-looking, with a hooked nose and Zapata moustache, he bore an uncanny resemblance to Gauguin – an affinity that he did not overlook, doing a series of self-portraits at one stage representing himself as the French artist. More interesting was the way in which he adapted the palette and decorative genius of Gauguin in his early abstract work and also in a late burst of outstanding painting.

Rollin Schlicht was born on October 27, 1937, on Ocean Island in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands (now Kiribati and Tuvalu), the son of Theo, a doctor to the phosphate mining company there, and his wife, Kathleen. The family was Australian (from Beaufort in Victoria) but Theo always wanted to be a psychiatrist and work in England.

Advertisement: Story continues below When war broke out in 1939, the family was stranded in South Africa before returning to Australia, where Theo was drafted into general practice. He joined the RAAF in 1943 and spent three years in Japan before going on to England. It wasn’t until 1951 that the family was reunited in England, where Theo had become a psychiatrist.

The separation from his father and the expatriation to England was something Schlicht never quite overcame.

In London, the Schlicht household was something of a bohemian locus, especially for Australian artists such as Arthur Boyd, Charles Blackman and Justin O’Brien (who gave his name to Schlicht’s younger brother, Justin, who would also become a psychiatrist).

Despite this, Schlicht’s parents resisted his going to art school so he studied medicine. This lasted just a year before he volunteered for national service, expecting to be rejected. He wasn’t and so served his two years before going to a kibbutz in Israel, where he entered into a hasty and short-lived first marriage.

Schlicht returned to England to study architecture. There he met Diana Tilley-Wynyard (with whom he had three children) and Janice Wainwright, later a fashion designer who eventually became his second wife.

Schlicht fell in with a group of expatriate Australian artists, who all seemed to live in what was then a very cheap area, Ladbroke Grove, and drink on Portobello Road.

When Tony McGillick established the Central Street Gallery with John White and Harald Noritis in Sydney, Schlicht saw his opportunity to return to Australia to begin a career in art. He held his first one-man show at Central Street in April 1967, later exhibiting there in group shows, along with a one-man show at Melbourne’s Pinacotheca in 1969.

Central Street was Australia’s first ”white box” gallery. Located in a warehouse building in a lane next to Central Street police station, it began life on the first floor but eventually expanded to the ground floor, where Schlicht designed a highly sophisticated adaptation, mixing cool modernism with the robust industrial character of the building. When the gallery closed in 1970, Schlicht continued to show with Chandler Coventry, for whom he designed another sophisticated two-level gallery in Sutherland Street, Paddington.

In Australia, Schlicht earned an income not from his painting but from architecture. He worked with Philip Cox and Allen Jack and Cottier. In 1967, he was joint winner with Carl Plate of the Aubusson Tapestry Prize. This took him to France and again to England.

He returned to Sydney in 1993. Here, the artist and paint manufacturer Jim Cobb (Chromacryl Paints) gave him accommodation and a studio and Schlicht managed the company for a while.

He continued to practise architecture on and off but largely devoted himself to painting. Schlicht was also a writer; he was architecture and urban affairs writer for The Sydney Morning Herald in 1994, a poet manque and a contributor to books and magazines.

Rollin Schlicht is survived by Janice and his children, Erin, Saskia and Justine.

Paul McGillick, May 2, 2011

The Big Guns of Sydney Retail

1 May

Shelley Gare

Frock shopping is a spectator sport. When Nicole and Simone Zimmermann decided to move into their shiny premises in the spanking new Westfield Sydney, they took a deep breath and splashed out on a massive cafe-au-lait coloured leather sofa, imported from Italy. There wasn’t much change from $30,000.

So far the sofa has cushioned many bottoms. Boyfriends are keen on it. One Saturday afternoon, I watch four blondes sprawl over its comforting contours while they scrutinise a fifth young woman as she tries on a pale-pink strapless gown, twirling for their approval.

The sofa would never have fitted into the Zimmermanns’ former city store in the historic Strand Arcade with its beautiful little rooms and Victorian dimensions. “It was always our plan to have a single location that was everything,- says Simone, -and the Westfield store has been tracking amazingly well. It’s doing much, much better than we imagined.”

Shopping is also a blood sport. The arrival of Westfield in the city has amped up the competition as effectively as Angelina Jolie arriving in a strapless gown at a P&C cocktail party. There is glamour, polish and the larger-than- life whoosh of a superstar, all backed up by a business machine that is targeting Sydney attention spans and wallets with the focus of a diva eyeing off an Oscar.

After two years of construction chaos, relocation and traffic snafus, Westfield Sydney opened last October with 130 shops and by the end of July, about 200 (including Miu Miu, Zegna and Prada) will be trading. The much awaited Spanish brand Zara has just opened.

Burberry, 343 George Street

Meanwhile, the luxury brands are putting on a show, too. Burberry has moved into a palazzo-style former bank building at 343 George Street where it now has three times the floor space of its former premises on King Street. Louis Vuitton’s new flagship store, on the corner of King and George, is scheduled to open in November. It. too, will triple its size. Dior will open in Vuitton’s old premises on Castlereagh in mid-2012 and Prada is moving from Martin Place to Westfield.

Louis Vuitton has submitted its plans for 365 George Street (the old Blacket Hotel on the corner of King Street) with the City of Sydney. Estimated to cost $9.5 million, the new Louis Vuitton store will be spread across three floors and house the company’s complete collection. It will also feature artworks, lounge areas, a travel room, V.I.P room and a balcony.

For years, central Sydney has been drab, deserted at night and only spotted with people on weekends as customers shopped at suburban malls instead. David Jones and Myer have done their best with revamps over the years, the Queen Victoria Building got a luxury $48-million refurbishment in 2009 and other arcades like the Strand, The Galeries and, more recently, the newly upgraded MidCity were pockets of shopping civilisation in the midst of stretches of desolate dinginess broken up by street buskers and, as one exasperated Sydneysider puts it, “about 35,000 convenience stores where a loaf of bread costs three times what it should”.

New MidCity Centre on Pitt Street Mall, opposite Westfield’s.

Ten years ago, Westfield started acquiring property, eventually buying Sydney Tower (Centrepoint), Skygarden, the Imperial Arcade and Sydney Central Plaza (although it could never get 182 Pitt Street and had to build its mall facade around the lone rebel). More than a billion dollars have gone into the resulting Westfield Sydney and retailers, even those in rival arcades, are saying – with visible relief, given how bleak retail spending figures are – that now, with each month, they are seeing more people coming back to the city.

Says Mark Browne, Christian Dior general manager for Oceania and Micronesia: “Westfield will rejuvenate and renew interest in the city.” But are the new visitors buying? And once they’ve had their gawk, are they coming back? If they do, who is going to lose out?

When Westfield opened its megacentre in Bondi Junction in 2004, it vacuumed up shoppers from all over the eastern suburbs, leaving Paddington and Double Bay reeling. And that was before the global financial crisis and our worries about debt, interest rates and  rising living costs. Not to mention that, if we choose to spend, we can now be seduced by online retailing, ranging from the likes of to promises of cheaper deals. In the city alone, there’s now 40,000 square metres of Westfield retail space, along with the QVB, Strand, MidCity, Myer and David Jones, to say nothing of George Street. King, Pitt, Castlereagh and all the shopping crannies in between, competing for whatever Sydneysiders are prepared to surrender from their tightly held wallets. As the Americans say, you do the math.

“Retailers around the area are doing it tough because of the economic climate,” says one insider. “In hard times, retail is always the first to suffer.” But anyone who works in fashion and retail knows the importance of putting on the best show. Robert Jordan, Westfield managing director for Australia and New Zealand, says that while there has been no qualitative research done yet on shopping numbers at Westfield Sydney, -anecdotally, centre management is saying that they’re getting a lot of people coming in from the outer suburbs. And we’re getting a lot more tourist traffic, so that’s quite pleasing.” 

“My hope is that Sydney’s CBD retail precinct becomes a world-class shopping destination on a par with the world’s best such as Oxford Street, London, Rodeo Drive in LA … “ Paul Zahra. CEO David Jones 

According to David Jones CEO Paul Zahra, Sydney “used to be a ghost town on weekends; now families are coming through. We’re not concerned about Zara opening; it all brings fool traffic. We have five direct access points through bridges and tunnels to the Westfield centre and this has definitely resulted in more people entering our stores.” Myer spokeswoman Jo Lynch agrees on the effect.

So does every other city retailer I interview. It seems confounding after what happened with Westfield Bondi Junction. Even now, seven years later, the word “Westfield” makes Double Bay people defensive. In one website, a proud – if anonymous – cafe habitue reflects on bad things to do with a big cake if they ever run into Westfield boss Frank Lowy. Today, while Double Bay and Paddington are getting to their feet again, there is still, according to the latest MarketView report from real estate corporation CB Richard Ellis (CBRE), a 10 per cent vacancy rate in both strips. But explains one sales assistant from the Strand Arcade, there’s a crucial difference. “Westfield in Bondi Junction is like a cocoon. It’s an enclave and you don’t want to come out. You can spend all day there. The city is different.”

The super-prime real estate for retail in Sydney’s CBD is Pitt Street Mall, which CBRE’s last global retail rents report says is the second-most-expensive street in the world after Fifth Avenue in New York. A 2010 report from global real estate company Cushman & Wakefield places the mall ninth in the top 10, behind Fifth Avenue, London’s New Bond Street and Paris’s Champs-Elysees. That’s still illustrious company for a stretch that features a chemist, lunching office workers and the occasional busking clown.  “Maybe the reason rents are so expensive is that Fifth Avenue’s shopping area is 11 blocks and Pitt Street Mall is just one,” says CBRE’s Joshua Loudoun, regional director for the Pacific.

“In Brisbane, the Queen Street Mall is three to four times as long and Melbourne’s Bourke Street Mall is double the length, plus Melbourne has Little Collins Street and Flinders Lane and all the laneways.” Loudoun argues that the mall section of Pill Street should be extended to Martin Place – “and that would certainly help Martin Place”. It might also help Sydney achieve its aim – expressed by Robert Jordan and Lord Mayor Clover Moore – of becoming an international shopping destination.

It’s still not even a Sydney shopping destination for some. When a friend’s wife dropped him at his city workplace recently, he asked if she was going to do any shopping. “No,” she replied. I can visit these shops back in Chatswood.

It’s true that with the opening of Zara and Miu Miu, those stores will be exclusive in NSW to Westfield Sydney but will it be enough? If I can duck in and out of Willow, Zimmermann, Scanlan & Theodore, Marnie Skillings and Morrison at The Intersection, the shopping precinct pioneered by businessman Theo Onisforou at the junction of Glenmore Road and Oxford Street in Paddington, do I want to do the trek and see the same shops and labels in the city department stores and arcades? “And go up three escalators and do two left turns,” mutters Onisforou.

“The danger for Sydney,” according to one retail expert, -is that it’s going to become the first homogenised city in the world. The rents are so high that the only people who can afford them are the corporates. Nobody wants to admit it, though .” Many criticise Sydney for not offering the variety that is seen in Melbourne’s CBD, where a city council drive over more than 20 years has resulted in tiny, unique businesses thriving near the big name stores in lanes and small streets. A few years ago, the, City of Sydney council started a laneways project, too, but unlike Melbourne with its 259 laneways and neat grid, Sydney only has 55 laneways, many unusable.

The council is now promoting The Fine Grain – a project that aims, by offering grants and capitalising on under-used city spaces, to give the city a mix of “unique and interesting businesses-, from small bars and cafes to galleries and spaces for new entrants into retail. So far, 40 small bars and 20 new laneway businesses, on top of an existing 30, have started since August 2008.

One such bar, Grasshopper in Temperance Lane off George Street, was named best small bar in last year’s Australian Bar Awards. Just opened is the Shirt Bar in Sussex Lane, where men can buy a shirt and anyone can have a glass of champagne. “You have to start somewhere,” says council business adviser Richard Roberts, who is working on the project with consultant architect Craig Allchin of Six Degrees Architects.

There’s a point where all this reaches a critical mass.  Westfield knows exactly how important mix is. Inevitably, deals are worked out according to desirability of tenant, size of shop and how much foot traffic they will generate. Retailers who are signed up first or last tend to get the best deals,” claims one retailer, adding a little glumly, “We were in the middle.” Western Australian label Morrison has not previously opened in Westfield. Richard Poulson – recently valued with his wife and fellow owner Kylie Radford by SRW at $42 million – says Westfield enticed them with a combination of rent reduction and cash incentives (such as assistance with fit-out) .

The lunch-time queue outside Zara’s.

Zara‘s fit-out has been almost entirely paid for by Westfield, claims one in the know. On the other hand, the retailer will also pay a lot of rent for its three floors and 1800 square metres. (Robert Jordan can’t discuss individual deals but simply says: ‘We did a very commercial deal with Zara; good for both of us.”)

Once in, Westfield tenants – as in other shopping centres – must report monthly turn over, something many don’t like doing. Occasionally it can affect rents but the real problem is that if a tenant’s turnover is low, or not up to par, Westfield will be concerned that maybe they shouldn’t be in the complex at all. Milton Cockburn, executive director of the Shopping Centre Council of Australia, estimates it usually takes a shopping centre two to three years to get the tenancies exactly right “and Westfield is very good at making their centres work. The pressure to get it right – on both Westfield and tenants – must be immense. In an effort to keep people in the city at night 

and moving into the restaurants and bars that will soon fill the fifth and sixth levels, the tenants have long hours. They must stay open until 6.30pm, 9pm on Thursdays and 6pm on Sundays. They have to open at 9am on Sunday, too, even though the designer shops on level four say they often don’t spot customers until 11 am or even 11.30. When I hear one retail manager is trying to organise a petition so the designer shops can keep shorter, boutique-style hours, I can’t help flinching on his behalf. Later, I learn that the petition idea lasted all of a week before getting the kibosh from Westfield.

“The next question is, what’s going to happen when Barangaroo opens? Westpac, American Express and Macquarie have already moved up to the north-west area of the CBD. Office workers will be a long way from Pitt Street Mall.” Joshua Loudoun. Pacific regional director. CB Richard Ellis. 

There are other grumbles, too: that while Westfield has profited from opening in stages, the first-stage shops have suffered because the centre feels unfinished. In certain stretches, it has been possible to see the same assistants brightly rearranging the hangers, day after day.

One manager complains of jackhammering at 11.30am on a Saturday. Others report customers staggering in, as confused as trapped birds, as they try to find a particular store or exit. (Westfield is notorious for creating centres where it’s easy to get in but tricky to depart.) A rival developer hates the low ceilings. “It’s like a passageway to a railway station,” he claims. “They were being greedy, trying to get in more levels.” But most are applauding Westfield for its investment and for providing a city hub. “Sydney was overdue to have a first-class shopping development,” says Louis Vuitton’s Oceania head, Phililip Corne, approvingly.

Another initiative that is getting ticks is Westfield’s offer to help young, upcoming designers with an open-plan space on the lower ground floor called 100 Squared that apes the grungy style Paddington or Balmain markets – perhaps too much so, given the sparkle of the floors above. Robert Jordan insists he’s very pleased with the floor and says a couple of designers are doing so well, they’re asking about store space. Can they afford it? “There’s a different range of shops you can get” says Jordan. “It’s actually shown them – and shown us – that there are all those young designers who can do the trade and can go into full shops.” For all the gung-ho cheer, times are tough for Australian retail. Frugal is the new black, claimed Margie Osmond of the Australian National Retailers Association back in late January.

In March, after a profit warning, Myer CEO Bernie Brookes announced a five per cent drop in profits for the first half of the financial year. A week laler, David Jones’s Paul Zahra reported a five per cent rise but he was still subdued. Like Brookes, he blamed natural disasters, adverse weather, higher utility prices and unnerved consumers. Ten years ago, we were so uninterested in putting aside some money for a rainy day, we had “negative saving”, as The Sydney Morning Herald’s economics editor, Ross Gittins, has put it. Now Australians are saving about eight to 10 per cent of their income.  Sixty-live per cent are paying their credit card in full each month, says Gittins. 

Oddly, says senior retail analyst Craig Woolford of Citi Investment Research, the women’s clothing market has been softer than the men’s. “That’s unusual because men are more functional and will just stop their spending whereas women will be attracted by what’s on offer. He blames fashion direction, saying: “It hasn’t been clear enough, so women can get away with items from last year.” Others, like Zahra, dispute that but in any case, Woolford is predicting retail spending to improve to six per cent growth later in 2011. We think that households have reached their savings level.

In spite of the steadily growing city crowds though, I’m not spying many shiny shopping bags. Says a manager of one Westfield store: -We might be seeing more people but not many of them are flashing their cards.” Cruelly, our straitened times are playing out like Russian roulette. -One clay we’ll have a really great day and then the next day, it’s … oh!” says Sam Wagner of Sambag, who has moved into Westfield and will leave her shop in the Strand Arcade when the lease runs out.

“Employment is up but people seem to be all over the place with their spending.” Luxury brands are reporting growth but anecdotal evidence is that it’s the mid-level brands like Country Road that are doing it hard. Retailers Colorado – Diana Ferrari, JAG – has just gone bust.

And while Ipoh, which owns QVB, Strand Arcade and The Galeries, says it has 100 per cent occupancy rate and is confident its arcades are targeting different markets from Westfield, over half of King Street is available for sublease or will be in the next year”, says Loudoun. 

Confusing everything are the constant sales. In a Review store in Westfield, I find a gathered ’50s-style skirt in a heavy cotton. It’s pretty but it’s $229.95. A lew days later, I spot the skirt marked down 30 per cent in a store promotion. I almost buy it but can’t decide between two sizes. A week after that, it’s back to $229.95, Except it isn’t. A discount gives customers $50 off any purchase over $150. In a fortnight, the skirt’s price has been $229.95, $160.97 and $179.95. How much is it really worth?

Sydneysiders now wait for sales. In good times, says Zahra, “we see the same trend of people buying for fashionability rather than price. But in shakier times, it’s catch-22. People don’t buy; the stores are forced to have sales; people buy but the decision to wait for a sale is reinforced. It’s heartbreaking , says Clare Press of Mrs Press in Paddington, which offers a select range of womenswear. “You make something beautiful and then stores near you are’ putting everything on sale … Then it’s panic mode:  We also travel more – and go online more. “Why should Australian consumers pay $400 for a pair of Nudie Jeans when they can get them for $180 overseas?” storms “Bleeding Heart on the website

I can’t resist checking to see what I might have paid for a silk and cashmere sweater if I’d bought it online from an overseas retailer. Gulp. Apparently, $100 less than I paid for Little Joe’s version in Westfield Sydney. On the other hand, I only bought the sweater on impulse because it felt so soft and I could try it on, surrounded by helpful assistants. Maintains Zahra: – Retail remains a tactile, sensory and social experience.

Dior’s Mark Browne muses on a recent experience in the glassy Apple shop on George Street. – I was there on a weekend and it was full of people. I was told by a staffer it was the third-largest Apple store in the world and there were plenty of passionate sales and support staff assisting customers. It was such a pleasure to be in that environment.” No one is disputing that the city is busier, at least with window-shoppers, since Westfield opened and retailers know they have one thing over online: real life.

Publisher Victoria Maxey, whose Urban Walkabout shopping guides map Sydney’s key retail areas, argues: “We’ve now got the first digital generation that breathes technology … it’s so easy to find standard products. They want something different. unique, personal. Real life experiences are rare to them.” Westfield, with its $1.2-billion investment and watchful shareholders, must be hoping fervently that’s so. It’s not the only one.

Source- Shelley Gare, SMH, May 2011.