18 Dec 2019

Closer to home: micro-CBDs and the emerging night-time economy

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"Shopping centres are growing into destination centres, no longer just for clothing purchases or a cinema visit. Today, they’re becoming our backyard playgrounds, offering a range of alternate forms of entertainment in a central location. This includes restaurants, dining experiences and bars, which a decade ago would have been located elsewhere." - CEO, The Signature Group, James Sinclair.


Australia’s changing demographics are transforming where people go for entertainment and to meet and celebrate with family and friends.

As our population increases, there is growth into suburban areas, particularly among younger millennials who are often priced out of inner-city real estate.

Our house and land sizes are getting smaller and many people are opting to live in apartments and town houses where it is not so convenient to entertain larger groups.

Sensitive to these changes, the retail, entertainment, and food and beverage industries are locating facilities closer to these new population centres, and updating what they offer to cater to a local night-time economy, which is increasingly moving to new types of venues and locations outside of the major CBDs.

“The traditional shopping centre is increasingly becoming the town centre and hub for the community,” says James Sinclair, the Chief Executive of the Signature Group, which operates the Sporting Globe brand of sports bars and acquired the TGI Fridays restaurant business in 2017.

“Shopping centres are growing into destination centres, no longer just for clothing purchases or a cinema visit. Today, they’re becoming our backyard playgrounds, offering a range of alternate forms of entertainment in a central location. This includes restaurants, dining experiences and bars, which a decade ago would have been located elsewhere.”

A major driver for change is population growth. Sinclair says Australia’s population is expected to grow by nearly 12 million, or by around 50 percent, over the next 25 years, and is a key driver of Signature Group’s strategy.

Decentralisation will be a key urban theme as the population increases. The Greater Sydney Commission, for example, released plans for a “Metropolis of Three Cities” around the existing CBD, Greater Parramatta and Western Sydney, while Melbourne’s plan is for a ring of satellite cities as the population surges towards nine million.

Scentre Group General Manager, Development and Asset Management, Ric O’Connell, says the emergence of micro CBDs where people are living within 30 minutes of their jobs, education, health facilities, services and experiences is becoming more of a reality.

“With 65 per cent of the Australian and New Zealand population living within 30 minutes of a Westfield Living Centre, we have a vision to be a leader in developing a healthy night-time economy in emerging micro-CBDs across the country,” he says.

“It makes sense for us to be offering safe, secure, night-time entertainment for locals to enjoy themselves. This is something we aim to grow into an 18-hour economy.

“We know our customers want somewhere local to socialise, dine, be entertained and then go to a wine bar or micro-brewery for a night cap without having to pay through the nose for an Uber home from the CBD,” he says.

“This evening social scene is traditionally something people would enjoy at a night spot in the CBD, and we need to be offering them a variety of options that allow them to stay close to home but still go out for a good time.”

This is part of the reason Scentre Group is transforming its portfolio of 42 Westfield centres from shopping centres to Living Centres.

It’s a strategy that resonates with Signature Hospitality Group.

“We see the spread of the urban population continuing, and with that the transformation of these centres into entertainment hubs alongside food and beverage,” says James Sinclair.

“This is a major growth factor for our business. We see a huge contingent of younger people living in suburbs and wanting to go out locally.”

As a leading hospitality business, Signature Hospitality Group’s growth strategy is focused on locating in large centres, alongside more traditional retail to create the emerging new mix of services and facilities in the contemporary Living Centre.

Signature Hospitality Group already has four The Sporting Globe bars and six TGI Fridays restaurants in Scentre Group’s Westfield centres, and ultimately aims to have a presence in each of the largest Westfield Living Centres across Australia.

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The newest addition is the largest dedicated sports bar and grill in the southern hemisphere, which opened at Westfield Knox in outer eastern Melbourne this week.

Over 1,200 square metres, The Sporting Globe at Westfield Knox will feature a restaurant and dining area plus a functions’ facility and several bars.

The new venue will boast 70 screens, including a stadium style big screen central “jumbotron” over the main bar area offering a wide selection of sporting options, as well as a rooftop entertainment terrace over-looking the Knox Ozone restaurant precinct.

“This new concept is set to become the flagship for our group and an example of how we develop in future,” says James Sinclair.

Younger people, he says, also want to spend a larger portion of their disposable income on experiences – a demand which The Sporting Globe concept is designed to meet.

The “dwell time” for The Sporting Globe customers spans after work drinks which can then develop into dinner and watching a sports game with a group of friends, after which the bar transitions into more of a “night-time economy” phase offering musicians or DJs.

The gender balance of the bars is around 40 percent female and 60 per cent male, and Sinclair expects the percentage of women to increase as women’s sport continues its rise and are on display or promoted.

In the US, he says, the gender mix at sports bars is close to 50/50, and the Australian trend is reflecting that.

“We see sport as the number one entertainment form which people will consume in Australia,” he says.

“There are more sporting codes being televised across women’s sport and international codes, so the growth in sport is enormous.”

“Dwell time” is shorter at the TGI Fridays restaurants, largely because many of the customers are families with younger children, and also because customers often combine the dining experience with a number of other activities on offer within a Living Centre.

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