Could this deal save Yagan Square’s ‘white elephant’?

Yagan Square’s troubled market hall is tipped to reopen in summer 2023, with a multi-venue concept plan to revitalise the ailing space just weeks away.

DevelopmentWA confirmed it has signed a heads of agreement with Nokturnl co-founders Drew Flanagan and Ross Drennan, the brains behind The Beaufort in Highgate and Fremantle’s The Old Synagogue.

Nokturnl Events founders Ross Drennan and Drew Flanagan. Credit:Philip Gostelow

It comes after last month’s announcement that the state government had committed a further $7 million to revamp the commercially unsuccessful space, including the reconfiguration of the market hall to accommodate a new venue.

Drennan said architects were finalising concept plans and they hoped to open the new venue next year.

“There’s discussions to put a brewery in the basement, a few restaurants, and an outdoor beer and wine garden,” he said.

“We want to create that ‘wow’ factor, but we don’t want to overcook it.

“We have a challenge on our hands but with a bit of luck we can turn it around.”

Drennan said the venture would complement the existing Shoe Bar and entice more people into the precinct.

What went so wrong?

When the award-winning market hall opened in March 2018 it was billed as a world-class destination that would highlight Western Australia’s finest produce and act as a drawcard for interstate and overseas visitors.

But even before COVID, businesses that bought into the state government’s sales pitch that the space would be a sought-after foodie hot spot began to abandon the project, labelling it a white elephant.

Perth’s Yagan Square has suffered from low visitor numbers, even before COVID hit.

The stunning design was criticised for sacrificing visitor access and convenience for aesthetics.

Speaking at an Urban Development Institute of Australia conference on Wednesday, DevelopmentWA executive general manager of planning and transition, Matt Ryan, said it was widely acknowledged that market hall as a product had failed.

“It didn’t survive COVID and it didn’t meet its objectives and in no way is that the fault of the businesses,” he said.

“The actual building itself, the movement through the precinct was lacking, its internal facing space doesn’t open up and spill out into the public realm and invite you in as much as it could.

“We’re trying to address as many of those constraints as we can.”

Ryan said there was a stronger than expected response when the redevelopment was put out to expressions of interest last year.

“We see Nokturnl as having the ability to generate the visitation required to reactivate Yagan Square,” he said.

“We hoped to have a lease locked in ASAP.”

Ryan said he was confident that Yagan Square’s future was “safely assured”.

Korean restaurant Gangnam, one of only two remaining tenants at the market hall, recently reopened on an external-facing shopfront with Japanese izakaya Hiss and Smoke expected to open in the next month.

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