Chadstone – The Neverending Story of Retail Development…

Another current issue that hit local news is the green light that has been given for Chadstone’s latest chapter within – what I call – the “Neverending Story of Retail Development”. To be honest, I first heard about the news from friends who mentioned that Hoyts Cinemas would close after June!



Over the years, as a local South Eastern Melbournian, Chadstone has held a soft spot in my heart. As a child, my first recollection of Chadstone was the old facade of the original Myer building facing Princes Highway. The shopping centre then was a single ground floor arcade, with a roof covering the mall from Myer to Target, or if I think hard enough – might have been a McEwan’s Hardware store… Target, according to the Wikipedia history, did open in 1985. Whilst I have a distinct childhood memory of the fibreglass roof which filtered the natural lighting, I struggle to recall the Convent of the Good Shepherd. However, I do remember the news controversy of the Convent buildings being demolished to be turned into car-park! As a child of the 80s, I was one of the key target markets that benefited from the opening of Hoyts Cinema in 1986. Movies that I would have watched in the fresh seating of Hoyts would have included Labyrinth and An American Tail.

I was fascinated with all the construction work that transpired throughout the 1990s, and 2000s which has led to Chadstone as we know it today. As a consumer, movie-goer and Apple fan, Chadstone has it all. Chadstone helped to pioneer and champion the cause of the Australian retail industry. With my analytical mind, I love the metrics that help to demonstrate Chadstone’s pre-eminence in lists like this one.

In the 2000s, Chadstone’s non-stop shopping allowed me and my uni friends to use the occasion to hangout and experience midnight/early-hour shopping. 23-24 December is the annual peak Christmas period, and Chadstone’s popularity continually grows. It is the one time of the year when local residents probably dread, but have come to accept. One year, I remember parking at a friend’s place two streets away and walking down. Unfortunately, shoppers had already filled the side-street parking up to that street, so our idea had limited effect. Even throughout the year, parking continues to be a growing problem. This leads me on to the topic of parking.

My dad parks exclusively in the Coles carpark, on the middle storey close to the Middle Road traffic light intersection. He of course, parks there during weekdays, when parking is abundant. Parking here makes strategic sense IF your access route is Middle Road to Warrigal Road and the Monash Freeway. Personally, I have found the Myer underground carpark, middle level an easy parking location on weekends. In 2011-12, I would frequently head to Chadstone after church for lunch and an early afternoon window-shopping experience. On other occasions, when the purpose of going to Chadstone is a movie, I like to try the most convenient and nearest parking to the cinemas where JB Hi-Fi is. All up, I have parked at all the different carpark locations; David Jones, Woolworths and Kmart. Ultimately, I don’t think there are specific parking tips or secrets. As long as people are pragmatic in their approach to finding a space to park their car and are not afraid to walk a little, any spot and carpark will work. Naturally, the underground carpark sections of JB Hi-Fi  and Myer/Kmart offer a 100% rain-proof walk to the shops.

Chadstone has three distinct food-court areas. The first centre expansion created the oldest food court area, upstairs towards the rear of the centre. The 1990s expansion of the parallel east wing included the newer downstairs food court area. The third area is not a food court per-se, but includes the downstairs area where Nando’s and Pancake Parlour are located, and a number of eateries all exist side-by-side. Other pockets of cafe & restaurant retailers have emerged in more recent years, such as Koko Black/Sushi Sushi/Igloo Zoo as a pocket surrounding the Myer lower ground entrance. This is a reflection of the trend where food retail has been a major growth market in the last decade within the overall retail industry.

Chadstone’s constant renewal and redevelopment has resulted in the present day complex such that the only thing left of the original heritage is the west mall and its orientation. The approximate location of Target on the ground floor and Hoyts cinema reflects the original positions of the retailers at the northern end. The neverending nature is reflected in the fact that there have been 33 distinct stages of development.

The trigger for this article, as of May/June 2014, was the news that Stage 34+ is finally about to proceed – the northern wing of Chadstone will close and be completely redeveloped into a modern leisure/retail precinct, complete with revitalised digital Hoyts cinemas. There is mention of an expanded luxury retail area for the western mall as well. Separately, but as part of this latest collection of work is the more controversial south-east developments – a 10-storey office tower with hotel, bus interchange and additional parking spaces.

To date, the concerns with congestion and parking have only been entertained mildly. The State Government’s position as “desirable” demonstrates the lack of political will to make public transport a strategic priority. In my opinion, investing in a public transport rail link to Chadstone opens up new long term opportunities. Yes, I have dreamt up highly improbably Chadstone-centric public transport designs. This version of Chadstone is the centrepiece of an entirely fictional underground metro line which I aptly named the “Warrigal Metro“, in homage to conceptually following the North-South route of Warrigal Road. However, in 2014, given the reality of the next development, even the linkage of Alamein to Chadstone via underground tunnel, and some form of interchange at East Malvern & Oakleigh would maximise railway connections. Patronage at Chadstone would increase tremendously in the event that it was finally connected seamlessly into Melbourne’s train network. The nearest comparison today is Box Hill, given Box Hill Railway station was built immediately below the retail complex.

One key impact of a metro station at Chadstone would be parking. Dedicated carpark for all-day commuters would need to be defined in order to prevent unwanted and unsupportable levels of demand on parking. Chadstone retailers would immediately gain access to a far greater catchment pool of commuting consumers, with the Christmas peak retail period likely to generate volumes not just on-site, but also on the train services operating in the vicinity. The interchange stations that emerged on either side of a Chadstone metro station would need to be capable of handling the volumes of passengers needing to change train – East Malvern, Holmesglen or Oakleigh. In my fictional futuristic Chadstone, my track realignments and metro station designs are intended to maximise and allow for transitioning between lines.

The revamped bus interchange proposed in the 2012 designs are a step towards a more integrated public transport, but greater consideration needs to be given to the flow of vehicular traffic on Warrigal Road and Princes Highway. The slow traffic progression north-south is impeded by the number of traffic light intersections all along Warrigal Road. One part to the solution and alleviate some road traffic would be to create a three-level grade separation junction, such that Princes Highway through traffic was unimpeded with an overpass, while Warrigal Road through traffic flowed through a tunnel. This would leave the ground level roadway clear for the remaining traffic-light controlled left and right turns.

Even with this kind of investment, Warrigal Road traffic north of Princes Highway would still remain problematic given the proximity of junctions up until the Holmesglen railway bridge. Creating a grade separated intersection with unimpeded flow-through for Warrigal Road from Waverley Road at the north, to after the Freeway at the south could help, particularly with bus traffic. One of the biggest challenges would still remain in traffic originating/destined for Chadstone. The key access routes from the Freeway to Chadstone are highly problematic. Traffic leaving Chadstone is the easier of the two to deal with, since any direct access to the Freeway without traffic lights would ensure maximum efficiency. Designs such as dedicated two-lane road tunnels around Middle Road and the north-east corner of Chadstone to connect exiting traffic with Monash Freeway, particularly East-bound, are ideal solutions and probably require land acquisitions around Virginia Avenue and Midlothian St.

Traffic entering Chadstone presents greater challenges. One potential would be to separate Middle Road incoming traffic before the traffic light intersection, such that underground and above ground parking areas are directly accessible without the need to stop at a traffic light. The principle is the same as the above exit strategy; present as few barriers as possible between an entering car and the destination car parking space.

In this way, we can conclude that Chadstone has grown considerably such that it shapes and influences all the major roads in its vicinity. This is both a strategic advantage as well as curse given they also happen to be three of the busiest roads in south east metropolitan Melbourne. Given the limited options to the road network, Chadstone’s ongoing development must strategically integrate public transport – particularly the high-density volumes of the train network – into it’s ongoing growth.