The company behind the $700 million Hunter Street mall redevelopment says it has pulled off a coup by securing Woolworths as its anchor retail tenant.
Iris Capital chief executive officer Sam Arnaout announced at a sales function in Newcastle on Thursday night that he had locked in one of the supermarket giant’s “boutique” Woolworths Metro stores after two years of negotiations.
The store will be on the ground level of a new apartment building on the corner of Perkins and King streets and is scheduled to open in mid-2020. It will mark the first investment by a major retailer in the city’s east since David Jones closed its Hunter Street store in 2011.
The mall, once the city’s commercial heart, has faded as a retail destination since the rise of major shopping centres at Kotara and Charlestown.
Mr Arnaout said in his sales pitch to the crowd of prospective buyers that securing Woolworths demonstrated that his firm could deliver on its promises.
“I worked very hard at securing Woolworths; it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t cheap, but they’re here, they’ve signed the lease and they’re on board,” he said.
He told the Newcastle Herald after the announcement that he hoped Woolworths’ commitment would spur other commercial tenants to move into the area.
He has been talking to major fashion retailers but said it was difficult to secure commitments when the clothing industry faced significant structural challenges.
“I don’t know that that’s necessarily the total solution for the east end or Newcastle as a whole,” he said.
“What we’re trying to create is more of a convenience and community lifestyle.
“It doesn’t always come with attracting big-format fashion retail; it’s by having a large series of smaller retailers.”
Mr Arnaout hoped the supermarket announcement would be heartening to traders in the area struggling with light rail construction.
The Iris redevelopment site includes the former David Jones building on the corner of Perkins and Hunter streets, where Mr Arnaout hopes to open a hotel.
He said the hotel option was “still live” and he hoped to make an announcement in four to six weeks.
“We are seriously investigating the feasibility of putting a hotel into this asset, and we are very strongly passionate about delivering that as a five-star hotel within this complex,” he said.
The Woolworths news comes two months after Iris lodged plans for stage two of the EastEnd development, which spans two blocks on the south side of the mall.
The Joint Regional Planning Panel has approved concept plans for the four-stage project, which will include more than 550 units and parking for about 550 vehicles. Stage two is scheduled to be completed with stage one in 2020.
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