VISIONARY: Marcus Westbury (right), founder of ReNew Newcastle, has the blueprint to boost the Ipswich CBD.Ipswich mayor Paul Pisasale and Queensland Community Alliance member Jane O’Regan agree.
VISIONARY: Marcus Westbury (right), founder of ReNew Newcastle, has the blueprint to boost the Ipswich CBD.Ipswich mayor Paul Pisasale and Queensland Community Alliance member Jane O’Regan agree. Rob Williams

Ipswich CBD can thrive says Newcastle's city renewal guru

MARCUS Westbury has the blueprint to get the 40 vacant shops in the Ipswich CBD filled.

Sounds like a blueprint the business and civic leaders of Ipswich, and the entire community indeed, would like to get their hands on.

The good news is Mr Westbury, a CBD renewal guru, has put into operation a strategy that saw the CBD of Newcastle rejuvenated.

Mr Westbury, who spoke at a captivated forum organised by the Queensland Community Alliance in Ipswich last night, wrote a book about his success.

Yesterday he spoke to the QT about the challenges faced in Newcastle, how they were overcome and how they relate to Ipswich.

"In Newcastle the CBD had been emptying out for years and a lot of the activity had moved out into suburban shopping centres," Mr Westbury said.

"There were 150 to 200 vacant shops in the two main streets.

"So in 2008 we set up a not for profit company called ReNew Newcastle which works with owners to borrow buildings and then lend them to creative and community projects, so can they can try an idea basically.

"We've done 220 projects and reopened 80 properties in the city that aren't empty anymore.

"A lot of our projects have gone on to become successful businesses and the vacancy rate in the city has dropped between 70 and 90% over the last seven years.

"We have helped bring back into the city a lot of life, activity and new businesses."

Mr Westbury further explained how the model worked.

"We borrow buildings when they are empty and lend them on a rolling 30-day licence," he said.

"If the owner gets a better offer they can have their building back, but in the interim we are lending it to someone who might be starting a new business or community project.

"Rather than having these 'for lease' signs and things gathering dust in a city you have people trying new things all the time.

"Not all of those things work, but if some do it makes a difference.

"If you can create a dynamic where things are starting and people are coming out of the woodwork and doing stuff, it starts to make a big difference."The difference in Newcastle is there for all to see with the metropolis going from one with endemic youth unemployment and a dying city heart to being named in one of Lonely Planet's top 10 world cities.

Mr Westbury said Ipswich was a typical city with challenges, similar to the ones faced by Newcastle.

"There seems like a lot of activity has moved into suburban shopping centres so if we can get council and some of the private property owners to do what Newcastle did…it can make a real tangible difference in a cost effective way," he said.

Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale said Mr Westbury's analysis showed that "what is happening to Ipswich is happening to a lot of CBDs across Australia".

"We see the impact of regional shopping centres and how the way people shop has changed, so CBDs have to change," Cr Pisasale said.

"Marcus has shown how the community can have an impact by being made part of the solution.

"We have 'Activate Ipswich', where on council buildings you can have free rent on a short-term lease to operate your business.

"That has a good effect in helping redevelop the CBD, and we have got six shops thanks to Activate Ipswich.

"Council has a long term strategy - I've shared those ideas with Marcus. We are about creating a CBD that is arts based, entertainment based and community based. It is about people."

Cr Antoniolli said the redevelopment planned by Ipswich City Properties for the CBD would play a crucial role in facilitating the goals Mr Westbury speaks of.

"The CBD redevelopment of the mall is about engaging with the community so the program from Newcastle gives us an opportunity to enhance that engagement right throughout the CBD," he said.