By Stan Liacos
CEO Queen Victoria Market
In my first four months as CEO of Queen Victoria Market I have heard many and varied views about how to “save our market”.
The one common theme that has come through however is the need for some degree of market upgrades and business adaptation. This is what I have taken from my conversations with our 600-plus, increasingly-frustrated traders.
The task now is for traders, City of Melbourne, market board and staff to decisively embark on this journey together. And locking in a prosperous future for our traders will only occur if we adapt to better satisfy the modern demands of customers – be they locals or tourists. The much-publicised restoration of the market’s heritage sheds is, therefore, only one part of the vision for the market.
The many conversations that I have had to date reinforce to me that with much of the broader public debate about the market so far focused on its heritage status, what is often lost on people is that the real challenge to “save” our iconic market is bringing the “business of the market” into the 21st century.
No change is not an option for a market in need of renewal and nor is standing still in any way going to save the market for future generations.
Victorians love the cultural and physical heritage of the market and preserving it is a must. But, unless we make improvements to the operation and trading formats of the market to meet current community standards and expectations, it will surely not prosper into the future.
As much as everyone loves its unique character, we must remember this is a working market and not a museum. Let’s not confuse nostalgia with heritage preservation.
And as one of the world’s oldest continually operating markets, it is showing its age – not only in its physical facade, but in the antiquated facilities which fail to provide separation between dangerous forklifts and pedestrians, efficient storage for traders, power and water supply, hygienic waste facilities and modern toilets.
Making the business of the market work also means shifting the way we do business. This includes revisiting market trading hours to meet contemporary consumer demand and align with current and emerging retail trends. It is imperative we trade into the early evening, particularly, for instance on Thursdays and Fridays, to regain lost market share.
The market is a vital piece of living, breathing infrastructure at the centre of the revitalisation of the north and north-west of the CBD.
Market renewal is not just important for the market itself but to serve the inner city that is experiencing high-density population growth as Melbourne rapidly approaches a population of five million.
Renewal of the market car park will also allow its transformation into a fabulous 1.5 hectares of new public open space, the largest addition to public space in the city since Birrarung Marr, an extraordinary opportunity for Melbourne.
This will occur once our 720 current spaces are transferred to the recently-approved “Munro” development immediately adjacent to the market and, in part, underground or elsewhere within the market precinct.
The new park will allow new community activities, events and gatherings that will bring new life and excitement, as well as opportunity for peaceful reflection at other times, on the doorstep of one of the world’s great markets.
And, upgrade of the market also provides a catalyst for the broader revitalisation of the inner city by improving the connections and vibrancy between the central CBD, North Melbourne and West Melbourne.
We can preserve the treasured heritage buildings and ensure the physical sustainability of the market into the future, but we must acknowledge that change is an important part of the story. Since its inception in 1878, the market has gone through continual renewal and evolved to change with the times.
All involved in the task of market renewal are determined to ensure the voices of market traders and customers are heard as we assist the City of Melbourne with innovative renewal plans with Heritage Victoria, so our market will be prosperous and enjoyed by generations to come.