By Shane Scanlan
Visiting international market expert David O’Neil sees passionate reaction to the City of Melbourne’s plan to redevelop the Queen Victoria Market (QVM) as a positive.
“That heart-felt argument is a sign of love,” Mr O’Neil said. “It’s a good sign and it’s very typical. Anytime an old beloved market gets into a ‘we’re going to fix it up’ situation people get very nervous.”
However, he applauds the city’s ambition for the QVM and recommends that people get on board.
“There is a sensitivity,” he said. “The customers and the vendors are right to question the process because it is very important that authenticity is maintained. But it’s also important that the market stays relevant. Demographic shifts are occurring and you cannot sell nostalgia for too long. You’ve got to keep up.”
Mr O’Neil points to the changing shopping habits of current-day consumers as the major need for change. He said, in the US, consumers were now spending the majority of their food budget on eating out, take away and pre-prepared food.
He said piecemeal upgrades to the market would not help traders in the longer term.
“Renovations or no renovations, there will be casualties,” he said.
Mr O’Neil said he was impressed with what market management was trying to achieve.
“From what I’ve seen it seems to be on the up and up. A lot of it is maintenance. A lot of it is positioning the market as a stronger consumer destination,” he said.
“I think ‘de-carring’ it and making it a better place for people is certainly a wonderful thing. And I love the public spaces that are going to be a signature part of the market.”
He said markets all around the world were facing similar challenges and he was confident that Melbourne’s response was appropriate.
“This is the largest single market renewal project in the world right now. It’s also very important to the market world that this has a good outcome,” he said.
“I love the fact that they bought the adjacent piece of property (the Munro site). That was a good strategic move. You’ve got an incredible footprint for your market here.”
While he recognised people’s fear of change, he said the market would not be very different after redevelopment.
“And it’s not really redevelopment. It’s not really changing. It’s the same traders, it’s the same place and better infrastructure,” he said.
He said the language and the rhetoric of opponents of the redevelopment was almost exactly the same as in other markets around the world.
“This is a very typical reaction. It requires adjustment and people would prefer to not adjust,” he said. “But it’s incumbent upon management to do these kinds of things for the long-term.”
“You have to be ready to maintain the traditions but also be ready to satisfy changing trends,” Mr O’Neil said.