WHEN developer Damon Nagel started thinking about building a giant new apartment complex on the edge of Whitmore Square, people tried to warn him off the idea.
He says they cautioned against the square’s seedy reputation but, undeterred, he could see the site’s appeal — on the only city square you can’t drive through — so pushed ahead with the $110 million investment.
That was five years ago and now, Mr Nagel’s company Starfish Developments, is two months away from completing the 22-storey Bohem apartments on Whitmore Square.
The gamble has paid off, with all but 18 of the 224 apartments in the building already sold ahead of the December 18 opening date.
“There’ll be 450-plus new residents moving into that area,” Mr Nagel says.
“There’ll be a fundamental shift in how Whitmore Square is thought of — but I think a positive one. We’ll probably be equally excited as the people moving in there.”
The area’s “community spirit”, the leafiness of Wright St and the closeness of the Central Market drew him to the area. He says there is a “definite shift” of people wanting to live in the city, boosted by Adelaide Oval and the introduction of small bar licences.
The new Royal Adelaide Hospital and the revitalisation of the West End are also attracting more people to the city’s southwest. But look closer and you’ll discover a strong community spirit and new creative edge is transforming the once-dormant corner.
For years the area has been overshadowed by the rejuvenation of other parts of town, such as the East End, West End and Riverbank Precinct. But now, over on Wright St, Mohyla Architects has lodged plans for an 18-storey office building behind Hotel Wright Street, which closed last year.
The owners, a group of Chinese investors, want to reopen the hotel and add a rooftop terrace to it.
A street away, commercial real estate agent JLL is close to selling the 7418sq m former New Mayfield site on Sturt St, after plans for a 388-apartment building and 200-room hotel collapsed in 2015 when its major shareholder, Tagara Builders, went into liquidation.
Mr Nagel hopes his building, which has a 22m-high plant-covered wall in the lobby, will inspire more investors to consider the area.
“I think some businesses feel confident when they see activity like this going on and say, ‘I’ll take a punt on this,’ and I think generally there’s more activation in the city,” he says.
“The western side of Adelaide — it’s always been the quieter side — but now it seems more active than the east and there’s more edgy eateries and bars — so I think the future is bright.”
NEW LIFE FOR OLD PUB
ON the edge of the city, advertising agencies and law firms are replacing motor mechanics and wholesalers’ showrooms.
Simone Douglas, who took over the lease of the Duke of Brunswick Hotel on Monday, wants the creative set to feel at home in her pub.
She is moving her social media training and advice firm Social Media AOK into the first floor of the Gilbert St pub and pulling out the pokies and TAB from downstairs.
“There’s a lot of creative people around here — design agencies, creative agencies — so I think it’s really about bringing in those people and giving them somewhere they can have business meetings and lunches, while still giving people who live here their local spot,” Ms Douglas says.
At the other end of Gilbert St, Adelaide will get its first “distillery door” when gin company Prohibition Liquor Co opens opposite the IGA in December.
Owners Adam Carpenter and Wes Heddles had previously run the business from Mr Carpenter’s house in Ovingham. The new premises will include a gin tasting area, cafe and a still, as well as Mr Carpenter’s graphic design business, Toolbox.
“Through various roles that I’ve had in the design industry and other things, I’ve worked in Sturt St and I’ve loved that corner of the city,” Mr Carpenter says.
“Close access to the (Central) Market is great and there’s a real good vibe in that area. The timing was right that there’s enough happening — so we can help that and create a bit of a hub.”
Smaller businesses are also continuing to open, such as Nishiki and Erb’n’flo on Sturt St and Urban Wine Room on Wright St.
Erb’n’flo owner Joshua Muller wants to be the go-to place at the other end of Sturt St for
Nishiki owner and chef Yass Tanase wants his izakaya — a Japanese-style pub — to be a “community restaurant”.
Former Lord Mayor and urban planner Stephen Yarwood lives in Wright St and says the area’s transformation was down to “lots of good things happening” at once.
“There’s this notion that success breeds success from entrepreneurs wiling and able to give it a crack, in terms of cafes and small businesses, to vacant buildings being available at a decent price and also the new developers,” Mr Yarwood affirms.
From the never-ending games at the Whitmore Square basketball court, to the hubs that are the Minor Works building and South West Community Centre, it is clear the area is keeping its community atmosphere despite all the changes.
“The character of any suburb is constantly evolving but what I’m seeing is a positive evolution of the southwest corner,” Mr Yarwood says.
SUSAN Collins laughs when recalling the southwestern corner of the city’s old label as the “Beirut end of town”.
The South West City Community Association she leads and the Adelaide City Council have been working to make the precinct less grey and barren over the past year.
“There’s so much asphalt here that in summer it’s very hot so any shade is good,” Mrs Collins says.
The council planted trees along many of the area’s streets in autumn, and particularly in Whitmore Square, after lobbying by the association last year.
Mrs Collins says many southwest residents like her and her husband, Jeff, had moved from the country or suburbs and taken over the council verges to continue their interest in gardening. “It’s a great thing for them — it makes the place look pretty and even once in a while you put in some herbs and people can benefit from that,” she says.
South Ward councillor Alex Antic says the council has focused on improving the appearance of the southwest’s streets and parks in the hope of instilling more pride in the area. “For example, we’ve got a citywide project to plant 1000 trees in the next couple of years,” Cr Antic says.
He is confident the area can retain its character. “That part of the world has a certain Bohemian feel to it and residents are rightly proud of it,” he says.