INVESTMENT in the Gold Coast from big capital city business is being stifled because the city does not have a single CBD, according to a Sydney business professor.

Scott Prasser, convenor of the upcoming St George State of the Region Summit on the Gold Coast, says focus groups attended by business leaders have revealed a common complaint regarding the Coast’s splintered business districts.

“Business people coming from Sydney often complain that by not having one central business district it’s a deterrent to investment,” he says.

“They are used to a particular way of operating. The concept of a united Gold Coast community is more of an urban myth than a reality.”

Business leaders on the Gold Coast have vigorously defended their city, suggesting southern academics ‘get their facts straight’. Compared to capital cities, the Gold Coast does not have large scale traffic congestion, while specialist cluster sectors, or various CBDs, actually foster synergy within industries.

Chair of Business GC John Witheriff, says the appeal of operating a business on the Gold Coast outweighs any negative rhetoric pedalled by business owners in Sydney and Melbourne.

“We don’t have the transport of infrastructure to serve a single CBD,” says Witheriff, managing partner of the law firm Minter Ellison Gold Coast.

“The Gold Coast historically grew up as a collection of villages. Our view is that CBDs in large cities exist because people have historically needed to communicate by physically mixing together. That is shifting with technology by making it more convenient via conference calls and other forms of communication.

“The business community successfully operates out of a number of different locations. After 20 years based in Southport, we moved the biggest the law firm on the Gold Coast to Varsity Lakes because our staff were sick of sitting in traffic jams.”

Witheriff points to the advantages of having specialist CBDs. For eg; Coomera as the marine innovation hub; Robina as the tech and IT centre; Southport for medical and government; Surfers for tourism and Burleigh Heads for surfing industrial and retail.

Murray d’Almeida is the chair of Connecting Southern Gold Coast, an initiative set up to bolster business and to develop a commercial hub south of Burleigh Heads. He is also a board director at Hyperion Asset Management, a national funds manager that successfully operates out of the Gold Coast.

“The trend around the world is for traditional CBDs to decentralise,” says d’Almeida.

“LA is a wonderful example with various satellite CBDs and even Sydney has different hubs with North Sydney, Chatswood and the central city. There are cluster developments happening all over the planet and the decisions are often driven by logistics.

“From a future planning point of view, infrastructure is the biggest issue on the Gold Coast. By having various villages you circumvent transport problems by not all travelling to the same place.”

Property Council Gold Coast chair Peter Trathen, believes the city will inevitably end up with two dominant commercial zones.

“I think Southport will become the CBD and Robina the second hub, it’s difficult to see any other solution. The Gold Coast won’t lend itself to the future in trying to centralise. I would hope and expect investment over the next decade, but it will be in niche sectors. I doubt that we will be able to compete in a broad sense with the corporate market in capital cities.”

But Professor Prasser believes one of the major contributing factors driving the need for change is how population growth is impacting on the linear city nature and limited intra-regional public transport.

“The planning and infrastructure limitations of the Gold Coast have long been exasperated by in-fighting between particular interest groups for their slice of the future. Key decision makers from business, community and government need to come together and be willing to put aside their personal agendas in order to create good policy, leading to visionary planning and positive community outcomes,” he says.

Most would agree that the city of the Gold Coast punches above its weight and has held its own in a volatile market. With recovery now occurring in key sectors of tourism and property development and SMEs powering the engine room of the economy, the city is growing up fast and cementing itself as a serious national business hub.

“It’s a city unlike any other in Australia,” concludes Trathen.

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