NSW hypes The Rocks as new digital and retail Mecca

The Rocks Architecture


Sydney’s hyperbolic property market is never short of big calls and bold claims ‑- and no location does it better than the city’s ionic waterfront where the New South Wales government gets to play prime landlord thanks its substantial holdings through the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority (SHFA).

Yet as the city’s overheated residential market continues to worry the Reserve Bank of Australia, those eagerly watching the state government’s own massive rationalisation of its property holdings could be forgiven for finding the experiential side of the selling process just a little surreal.

Take The Rocks, where the SHFA owns and manages the historic 26 hectare precinct and is spruiking it to potential lessees in language that would qualify for the ‘most creative’ award at any real estate promotion contest.

“SHFA’s vision is to make The Rocks one of the most envied heritage destinations in the world,” the body gushes in its latest promotional blurb in an effort to entice a better class of retail tenant.

And how’s this for hipster talk that approaches the burlesque: it wants “the creation of a curious, savouring and intimate environment that offers a sensual experience that online shopping cannot.”

It’s easy to laugh off, but the government’s attempt to revive The Rocks is a serious campaign that clearly wants to move the area away from heavily sanitised souvenir shops.

To do this it’s appealing heavily to the trendy digital and professional services set that SHFA as sensed is searching for something a little cooler than the clean glass lines of the north of the city.

One catalyst for the SHFA’s purple prose appears to be a landmark decision by heavyweight professional services firm Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to take out a mammoth ten-year lease over premises in 80 George Street, right in the heart of The Rock for its high tech Digital Ventures arm.

Dominic Perrottet , the NSW Minister for Finance, Services and Property, isn’t shy about putting BCG company up as just the kind of switched-on and cashed-up rent payer that can fill restaurants, cafes and boutique designer outlets.

It could also be a world first in terms of a government getting money from BCG, rather than vice versa.

Talking-up the lease, Mr Perrottet said BCG was a “perfect fit for the iconic and much loved area” and would boost the NSW government’s plans for the district.

Just how ambitious and transformative those plans are plans comprise become apparent in a remarkable glossy sales brochure recently released by the SHFA.

Dubbed the ‘The Rocks 2015/16 Leasing Direction’ the document is publicly available and can be downloaded here (PDF).

“With commercial and retail interest in The Rocks so high, we are not only securing the future of this treasured heritage area, but also attracting welcome private investment to go towards better public spaces and improved maintenance,” said Mr Perrottet.

BCG Digital Ventures is in on the act. “Our new office will combine the latest in workplace design and a significant investment in technology with a celebration of the building’s heritage architecture,” said the company’s Asian head Michael Priddis.

“Sydney is an important hub for our work in Asia, and we look forward to collaborating with some of the region’s most progressive companies in our new space, and enjoying all that The Rocks has to offer.”

‘The Rocks 2015/16 Leasing Direction’ document positions The Rocks as a “vibrant world-class retail destination for Sydneysiders, domestic travellers and international visitors alike.”

Some quotes will provide a window into its flavour and intent:

“The Rocks is an iconic location, situated between the two most recognisable symbols of Australia: Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House. The precinct comprises prime access to the CBD and all modes of transport. It adjoins Sydney Harbour and is home to much loved cultural institutions,” the document says.

“As well as being Australia’s most significant historic precinct, The Rocks is a vibrant and contemporary space, well placed for future growth. SHFA’s vision is to make The Rocks one of the most envied heritage destinations in the world – an alluring precinct and a leader in retail experience internationally. To achieve this The Rocks welcomes businesses:

  • with a passion and style, who understand the market, care for the environment and look to the future
  • who embrace the best of Australian retail innovation
  • who offer excellent personalised customer service
  • who deliver truly amazing retail experiences
  • who educate, entertain and enrich the retail experience
  • with a unique product that captures the consumer’s imagination
  • that add to the overall success of The Rocks
  • that are vibrant and fit with the preferred retail mix for The Rocks.

The Leasing Direction document goes on to examine key trends in retail globally, making the argument that “the rapidly changing retail environment is becoming increasingly more complex, with savvier consumers, shifting demographics and new channel formats all playing a part in the retail revolution.

“The future success of the retail industry lies in tailoring the offering to highly defined target markets, rather than the mass-market approach of the past. As a result heritage precincts are now developing into premier retail locations.”

It then neatly characterises the The Rocks precinct’s three target audiences: ‘Leisure Suits,’ ‘Sophisticated Tourists’, and the ‘Curiously Creative.’

It says for The Rocks to achieve its vision it must appeal to these target audiences. It has identified “three retail categories have been identified as the pillars of demand for these groups.”

They are ‘Food Experience’, ‘Fashion, Arts and Creativity’, and ‘Health, Beauty and Wellbeing’. You and I might call these restaurants, boutiques and art galleries, and other stuff. The document goes on about how they need to ‘be about more than food’ and the like, but it is hard to get away from the impression that the maybe hype itself is being overhyped.

And you thought The Rocks was just a place where tourists went to buy Ugg boots and opals. Not so!


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