Leongatha retail hopes rise
AN EYESORE in the middle of Leongatha could be transformed into a vibrant retail hub.
South Gippsland Shire Council has engaged architecture students from RMIT University to create designs for the possible future use of vacant railway yards on the edge of the central business district.
Developing the overgrown yards is a priority project for council and has been a long term goal of the Leongatha Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The site could even be a new location for council offices, making the existing site in Smith Street available for retail development.
Paul Stampton, council’s manager of strategic planning and development, said the project presented many opportunities for the heart of Leongatha.
“In many ways, it could end up being the jewel in the crown of Leongatha,” he said.
“I think there is hope for the site.”
The final year students are preparing design studies for the land and concepts are expected to be released for public display in October.
“They have met with council officers already and been talking to locals,” Mr Stampton said.
“They know the town needs more retail, more car-parking and that council is sitting on a nice bit of retail land here and that it may be appropriate for council to move at some stage.”
The studies could be pitched to potential developers and are being conducted at a “nominal cost” to council, Mr Stampton said.
While it is unclear who would fund an eventual development of the site, council could contribute financially.
“I would not say that council would not be a party to it but that has not been decided yet,” Mr Stampton said.
Councillors met with the students in July to share the community’s views about possible uses.
“Council is still engaged with VicTrack (the State Government agency that owns the land) about the future of the land because we know it is a major piece of vacant land in the town centre,” Mr Stampton said.
“It’s difficult to get into because there is no road access and the bridge is gone. It’s also alongside a heritage railway station and any developer would have to keep the railway line open.”
Chamber president Darryl McGannon welcomed the news.
“We would be interested to see what they come up with,” he said.
“At least something is happening. It might only be a concept, but it might give some investors some ideas to invest some money down here instead of money going elsewhere.”
Mr McGannon had heard the site could be used for a combination of retail, residential and car-parking.
“We’ve (chamber) always said about it ideally being a department store sort of thing, whether it be a Big W or Kmart, or something like that with smaller-type shops,” he said.
“People could park underneath it and would need access to the main street.
“I don’t think it is ideal for parkland as the back of the shops are hardly inspiring.”
Council called for expressions of interest to develop the site five years ago but no “conforming” expressions of interest were lodged, Mr Stampton said.
VicTrack spokesperson Jason Murray said the agency was still “happy to discuss purchase of the site with council, however we are not actively seeking to sell the land”.
“VicTrack would welcome any offers to purchase, but it’s not prioritised for sale on our forward land sales program,” he said.
“We are happy to discuss a possible sale to the council for future community uses, for example car-parking, but it’s up to the council to initiate discussions and a possible sale.”
Mr Murray said VicTrack was not interested in retaining the land to allow rail services to return to Leongatha.
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