A neglected mechanic’s workshop has been transformed into a thriving small business hub, which its developer hopes will serve as a template for the revival of high street retail throughout regional Australia.
“It was a rundown motor garage with oil drums and cars everywhere. To the eye you’d just keep walking past and say ‘that’s an eyesore’,” explained Danny Russell, the developer behind Cadell Place in Wagga Wagga.
“I’ve been developing property for the best part of 15 years, and obviously the building needed some love and some work, but the potential was there from a building point of view,” he said.
“When you look at it with a bit of vision and a bit of inspiration, it ticked all of the boxes that these other places didn’t.”
He’d long wanted to do something to revitalise high street retail – something he believes has been dealt a bad blow by the proliferation of malls in regional hubs like Wagga.
“I felt a responsibility to do something for small business. I thought I could bring together a complex of small business operators,” he said.
“That cluster effect does a lot of things – it creates a community; there’s an element of power in numbers.”
The result – after five years of site rehabilitation, council approvals and building work – is Cadell Place, a complex of tenancies ranging from a furniture store to a gelato pop-up at 171 Fitzmaurice Street in the northern end of the Wagga CBD.
Opened in late 2019, Cadell Place serves as a business incubator, offering flexible lease terms and pricing to small businesses, many of which are in their infancy.
“We’re trying to make it so that we’re a complex with a heart and a soul,” Mr Russell said, pitching the concept as the ‘anti-mall’.
“These malls don’t care if you can’t afford the rent, or can’t commit to a five-year lease – they don’t care if you don’t want to open on a Monday,” he explained.
“There’s a lot of risk involved in agreeing to those conditions.”
By contrast, some of the Cadell Place operators are on a month-to-month lease, with some artists and pop-up stores operating on a week-to-week arrangement.
“We won’t lock you up,” he said.
The property draws inspiration from Mr Russell’s travels through Europe and local offerings like the Grounds of Alexandria in Sydney’s inner west.
“Places like St Mark’s Square in Venice and other similar locations in Europe, they have these squares where they have these shops at the bottom, and they live upstairs, and all the action is in the square,” Mr Russell said.
“I really like that European-style approach because for small business you need traffic, you need people.”
All of the Cadell Place businesses are selected to be complementary to one another, and a community-minded business attitude is a must.
“You’ve got to be complementary to the boutique offerings that we’ve got at Cadell Place. You’ve also got to be a positive contributor,” Mr Russell said.
In return, he and his team offer mentoring to small business operators, including helping them establish a strong social media presence.
“What makes me a successful person is when I can help others realise their dreams. It’s not about me making money all the time – it’s really nice to be able to help others to have a win as well,” he said.
Rebekah Kirby and her business partner Crystal Preston opened their boutique furniture and homewares store The Huntress at Cadell Place in March 2020.
“We chose to come into Cadell Place because we loved the space and everything that was happening here. We just thought it was a really exciting project, something a little different,” Ms Kirby said.
She said that some of the highlights of being located in the complex included the community-minded spirit – such as businesses co-ordinating their opening times together for special evening events and sharing space when there is a stock overflow – and the flexibility.
“Every business is very individual, but they all complement each other. It works in the way that any marketplace would work – where you can go to one location and get lots of different things. It’s a nice little mix,” she said.
The Huntress has subsequently moved within the complex, taking a street-front store to accommodate its expanding business.
Drawing on the European inspiration, Mr Russell said that plans for Cadell Place include the development of a shop-top hotel and residential housing.
“The idea is to generate as much traffic for the commercial guys on the ground as possible,” he said.
Beyond Wagga, he hopes that developers will emulate the Cadell Place concept in other regional locations.
“My hope and prayer out of it is that other regional people who might have an opportunity to do this will do it because we have to do it to help keep small business alive,” he said.
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