For two years, locals have watched Byron’s first shopping mall gradually emerge from the previously irradiated sands at the southern end of Jonson Street.
Finally, after multiple delays and extended debates over the building’s size, height and character, we are finally going to see what all the fuss was about.
The much trumpeted ‘Mercato on Byron’ will open its doors to the public this month, providing answers to questions about the impact on local traffic and the local retail sector.
Locals will get their first look at the centre today (Wednesday) when the new Woolworths store opens its doors.
Byron Chamber of Commerce president Todd Sotheren says, ‘My view is that it’s going to give that end of town a little bit of a lift which the existing retailers could do with, bringing a bit of extra foot traffic’.
‘A big part of the mix is going to be food, which is a big draw to our town all the time. Plus it’s great to have our cinemas back after three years.’
Covering 7,895 sqm, the two-storey centre will include a nine-theatre Palace Cinema complex, a ‘new and improved’ Woolworths, and a mix of specialist shops and eateries.
There will also be a double-level, 321-vehicle underground carpark directly beneath the shopping and entertainment area.
The centre’s developers have promised that Mercato will be the first regional shopping centre to achieve a five-green-star rating from the Green Building Council of Australia, though they are now saying the centre will ‘aim’ to achieve this goal rather than actually achieve it.
The marketing company hired to promote the opening have proudly trumpeted the arrival of ‘more than 30 new speciality shops’.
These include Bed, Bath and Table, Livelife Pharmacy, Otto Kebabs, Bay Sushi, Beef and Beach Byron Bay and Crispy Fried Chicken.
Rockpool Dining Group is also opening a 250-seat Tex-Mex restaurant called El Camino Cantina.
But there remains a question mark over whether retailers have really been crawling over each other to get a spot in the centre.
Thirty per cent of the available retail spaces have yet to be filled according to the centre’s marketing manager. This is almost exactly the same proportion as when The Echo enquired in June last year.
The restaurant space of 170sqm2 outside the cinema’s entrance is still vacant, as are a number of smaller tenancies of approximately 60sqm2 located on the upper level.
The owners of the centre have remained tight-lipped about the cost of leasing a space in the centre.
They declined to comment on rumours that some retailers were offered lower rents in return for a share of their takings once the doors opened.
Nevertheless, the agents responsible for leasing the space, and Mr Sotheren, remain optimistic.
‘I find it hard to believe that there’s a demand-side issue,’ Mr Sotheren says.
He is also upbeat about the impact on other businesses in the CBD.
‘I’m always amazed by Byron’s ability to generate demand,’ he said.
‘We had three wine bars open just before Christmas, and they were all full-as-a-boot the whole time. I think it builds a bit of a movement when you’ve got multiple players entering the market.’
Locals will soon be able to decide for themselves whether the centre has lived up to its promise.