16th December 2019.
Years of work to reposition Fremantle as an investment destination is bearing fruit, as local business leaders hope the port city will lead a revival of Perth’s suburban precincts.
A range of new retailers and hospitality venues has launched in the city during the past two years as confidence grows that the wheel may have turned back in Freo’s favour.
Among the new venues are bar Jungle Bird on High Street and restaurant Lions and Tigers on Bannister Street.
The Old Synagogue opened its doors earlier this month, while The Dock pop-up has reappeared at E Shed and Republic of Fremantle distillery will launch in 2020.
City of Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt told Business News the locale had been through some softer years, similar to other parts of Perth, but activity was starting to pick up.
It followed a concerted campaign to improve the city’s marketing and amendments to planning schemes to be more investor friendly.
“This was a very long journey, turning Fremantle around, it’s nice to see many of these things we’ve been working on for a long time start to come to fruition,” Dr Pettitt said.
“It does feel really good at the moment, there’s a lot of good new venues opening.
“Fremantle has been doing it tough, but that’s starting to turn around now; it feels like we’re on the cusp of a lift, but there’s some way to go.
“There was an underinvestment in Fremantle for several decades because of the way we designed our planning scheme.”
South Fremantle’s South Terrace and surrounds has been a particular success story, Dr Pettitt said.
“South Fremantle strip is possibly one of the best strips in Western Australia right now, there’s really a lot happening, it’s a really good extension of Fremantle,” he said.
“It’s got its mojo right now.”
Jungle Bird, Little Loaf, Wild Bakery and Madelena’s are among the new arrivals on the terrace.
Fremantle Chamber of Commerce chief executive Danicia Quinlan said she estimated there were about $900 million of developments in planning, approved or under construction in Fremantle, with a further $400 million recently completed.
Heading the list is Sirona Capital’s Kings Square development, worth about $270 million, which is expected to bring 1,500 state government staff into Fremantle.
Other moves include a Doubletree by Hilton hotel to be built on Point Street, and a redevelopment of the Woolstores.
Longer-term developments include at Burt Street and Fremantle Oval.
Ms Quinlan said while the market for retailers and in hospitality had been tough, Fremantle had characteristics that gave it an advantage over some other locations.
“Fremantle is in a unique position,” she said.
“With the growth of online, those changes in the way people shop, gather and dine … experiences are what people are craving.
“Retail and hospitality are struggling across the globe, (but) there’s a sense we can create something in Fremantle that will bring people in.”
While most shopping centres were moving to introduce dining and entertainment options, these were already present in Fremantle, Ms Quinlan said.
An influx of office workers via the Kings Square development would bring further activity, she said, building onto the existing base of tourists and locals.
Speaking at a recent Fremantle Chamber of Commerce event, Sirona Capital managing director Matthew McNeilly said the suburb had several points of difference from other locations in Perth.
The diversity had been an attractor when deciding to pursue the Kings Square development, which he said had been a bit of a punt.
“It’s a port city, it’s a university town, the arts and culture mix, the tourism, the heritage, all those things appealed to me,” Mr McNeilly said.
As per Mr McNeilly’s inference, there are plenty of unique offerings in the Fremantle area.
The Old Synagogue co-owner Ross Drennan said he had bought the building about two years ago because it presented a once-in a-lifetime opportunity to do something unique in Perth.
The redeveloped South Terrace location now includes four separate venues, including a modern Asian eatery and a beer garden.
“The investment happening in Fremantle now, they haven’t had that sort of investment since the days of America’s Cup,” Mr Drennan said.
“Look around, the likes of Andrew Forrest with his latest acquisition, the Spicer’s site, Yolk Property with its office development around the corner from us.
“The council have long-term plans for the redevelopment of Fremantle Oval, which will be quite exciting for us.
“There seem to be more and more busloads (of tourists) being dropped off near the prison, walking past us into town; council is pretty proactive getting all the cruise ships down, getting those people into Fremantle.
“Time will tell, but it feels like the perfect time to invest in Fremantle.”
Cat Whispurr cafe on Hampton Road and owned by Jacqueline Montesi, is another quirky South Fremantle venue.
Ms Montesi said she had picked the theme because it offered an experience, something that couldn’t be bought online.
And while acknowledging the market for retailers was difficult, she had received great customer support from local residents, who came to join the cafe’s cats, adopted from Rescue WA
Luke Wheelan, who is behind The Dock pop-up at E Shed, now in its third year, told Business News the bar was set up as part of the Quay to Summer activation at Victoria Quay funded by the city.
He said about three quarters of the patrons through the venue had come from outside Fremantle.
Other elements of the initiative had included markets and food trucks at the quay.
Broadly, Mr Wheelan said things had started changing in Fremantle in the past three to four years.
The National Hotel opened its new rooftop bar last year, part of the second stage of the venue’s development.
National owner Karl Bullers said his instinct was that Fremantle was performing better than other parts of Perth.
“The last couple of months, my business has been booming,” Mr Bullers told Business News.
He said data on local hotel occupancy showed it was up on last year.
The city had also launched a new destination marketing strategy, which Mr Bullers said had been effective in attracting visitors.