Traders urge Council to spice up Little India

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Store-owners complain of significant decline in business.

For years it was the place people visited in Melbourne to buy colourful silk saris, daring Bollywood dresses and groceries fresh from the sub continent – perhaps treating their tired shopping feet to some hearty chole bhature or daal mahkni from one of the many eating joints.

Now Greater Dandenong Council is being forced to undertake a review of Little India looking at ways to spice up the area after traders complained of a significant decline in business after controversial street works.

Councillor Matthew Kirwan told the Indian Sun he was optimistic that Little India could be revitalised but it was too early to say whether council would spend any money on the process.

“It is too early to speculate on whether money needs to be spent by Council and what on,” said Cr. Kirwan, whose proposal for a review was passed at a meeting mid February.

“The purpose of a review is to see what actions could be done and the cost, benefit analysis of those actions,” he added.

Cr. Kirwan said council and traders need to work together to help Little India, located along Foster Street, between Dandenong railway station and Thomas Street.

“[The revamp] will likely involve Little India traders helping themselves and working collaboratively with Council and exploring new ways of promoting themselves,” he said.

Traders say business declined after 2010 street works under the $290 million Revitalising Central Dandenong plan saw roads closed and parking filled by rail commuters.

Local media reported some shops shut, while one trader, Samir Obeid, is fighting for compensation in the High Court of Australia that could lead to the government forking out around $1 million.

While the Napthine government has blamed Labor, saying the initial land purchase under compulsorily acquisition in 2008 was “botched,” the Opposition said “mismanagement” of road closures and handling of rents over the last three years had caused the problems.

But now Cr. Kirwan says traders and council should take control over what they can.

“Dandenong is our business. While Places Victoria owns the land, we should look after what we can control — branding, promotion, community events, retail strategy etc and advocate to Places Victoria what we want for Little India for the aspects under their control,” he said.

“Redevelopment of Foster St by Places Victoria is realistically years away, so now is an opportunity to revitalise this unique asset and make sure it benefits from the new people that will be attracted into the city centre when the new library and civic starts operating in March,” he added.

Places Victoria’s Acting CEO Peter Armstrong told the Indian Sun Places Victoria, which succeeded VicUrban, was working closely with traders and council to deliver the Revitalising Central Dandenong plan.

“This precinct will continue to see ongoing investment through road improvements, better parking, shop upgrades, improved signage and investment in tourism opportunities,” Mr Armstrong said.

Places Victoria is halfway to attracting the $1 billion of private investment needed for the 15-to-20-year-long project.

Cr Kirwan said future redevelopment could include Little India by having shops on the ground floor of new apartment or office buildings.

“This review is a great opportunity to publicly send the message to the Little India traders, Places Victoria and the Greater Dandenong community what our vision is for Little India, and that they are valued,” he said.

“This review it is not just about helping the traders for the trader’s sake, this is about Council undertaking a review because a successful Little India benefits traders, residents and visitors alike — and enhances Dandenong as a shopping and cultural destination.  I think Council has done a great job with Little India so far, but I think we can take it to a new level as a shopping and cultural destination,” he added.

Dandenong is one of the fastest growing multicultural hubs in Victoria, with more than half of residents born overseas, according to the 2011 census — Indians make up 11 per cent of homeowners.

The suburb started as an independent town before growing into a manufacturing hub in the 1950s and gaining its first modern, multi-story buildings in the 1960s.

Known for cheap housing, it became popular with migrants from all over the world who set up businesses filled with all they missed from their own homelands.

In the mid-1990s weekend tourists began visiting the area to get a taste of the foreign delights, and by 2006 the council brought in the Little India branding and began cultural tours.

Published in The Indian Sun (Indian Newspaper in Melbourne)

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