The opening of Byron’s Mercato Shopping Centre in February 2019 was accompanied by a torrent of superlatives from its proud owners.
The town’s first mall was variously described as ‘a unique complex’, a ‘reflection of Byron’s way of life’, and ‘a haven for artistic brilliance’.
Two years and three months later, those same owners, Azzura Investments Limited and Wingate Property, have sold up and were last seen speeding up the M1 with a massive bag of cash.
In one of the biggest deals in Byron’s colourful commercial history, the shopping centre has reportedly sold for a cool $120 million.
Includes old Woolies site
The Echo confirmed that the deal includes the old Woolies building and car park adjacent to Mercato, which is already the subject of a Development Application(DA) before Byron Council for a mixed-use hotel/retail/function centre development.
The managing director of Wingate Property, Mark Harrison, boasted to the Financial Review last week that the sale was a ‘testament to the unique and high-quality nature of the assets’.
Anyone who has been to Mercato lately might question Mr Harrison’s ability to accurately assess the quality of commercial real estate.
While Woolies continues to bring in a roaring trade and the Palace Cinemas are filling up again after COVID-19, the upstairs shops and restaurants have been struggling from the day Mercato opened.
The design of the centre has also consistently drawn the ire of locals, as have the claims that the mall is a bastion of environmental sustainability.
So who are these people that have forked out $120 million on a shiny mall, and do they have a plan to turn the ship around?
The new owners are a joint venture including the Mustaca family – owners of United Cinemas – and the Pelligra family, who are major real estate developers.
Also part of the deal are fund managers, Jason Meares, of Option Group and Chakyl Camal of Panthera Group.
Exactly what the venture’s plans are is almost impossible to tell, owing to their extremely vague public statements on the issue, which in some cases border on the linguistically bizarre.
An example of this can be seen in the Panthera Group’s press release, boasting that it had the ability to ‘structure innovative omni-channel retail strategies and technology enabled eco-systems to transform shopping centres into data powered retail hubs as Malls of the Future’.
When asked about what plans the investors have, the clearest statement The Echo got from Panthera Group’s marketing manager was: ‘The joint venture believes that Byron Bay holds a depth of market potential for entertainment, dining, hospitality and lifestyle experiences and Mercato on Byron should not exist as an average convenience shopping centre’.