Home Business & Invest City in Focus: Southport, from service centre to CBD

City in Focus: Southport, from service centre to CBD

Tim Welchman | October 2014

As the Gold Coast CBD, Southport requires a more diverse and broader population base. Southport’s current demand streams are primarily local residents and workers and this is mainly driven through catering to their daily shopping and retail needs. While this service role is important for local residents, Southport will require additional layers of demand.

Building the demand streams for Southport is important for its long term economic performance and growth. By only relying on a few demand streams, the CBD becomes vulnerable to the economic cycles. On the downward cycles this can impact business and consumer confidence, ultimately impacting community employment. To mitigate these risks the CBD needs to attract a diverse and broad demographic mix. The demography of the CBD is crucial in developing multiple demand layers such as workers, students, businesses and residents. It is also important to develop sub groupings such as young families, business owners, professionals, backpackers, hipsters and baby boomers, to name but a few. While Southport does consist of a diversity of residents, it is the ability to build and attract different demand layers that is crucial to its long term development.

To attract a particular demographic to the CBD it is crucial to understand their needs and wants, as well as behaviours and motivations. For example, assume we want to attract hipsters to the CBD; firstly, we need to understand their main characteristics. The typical characteristics of a hipster are well-educated, skilled and very self-aware. They are distinct, with their Buddy Holly style glasses, Doc Martens, latest copy of Monocle and get around on their fixed gear bike. The hipster’s bike can be easily spotted, usually standing against some urban wall painted in street art or some old style weathered fence post or street sign. They create a funky vibe for the places they co-habit or visit, which occurs due to their individualistic demeanour, accessorising and choice of authentic clothing. Currently the Gold Coast hipster can often be found at Miami, Burleigh or at any number of local Sunday morning farmers’ markets.

Hipsters have a tendency to set trends as opposed to following trends, yet they never acknowledge it, thriving on the self-perceived individualism and self- expression. Hipsters like fashion labels, yet avoid buying labels from stores operated by labels. They seek the independent retailer driven by the desire to be a pioneer and an individual. Hipsters are quick to adopt new technology and new ways, yet because of their desire for independence, are quick to drop trends once they become popular or mainstream.

There are emerging pockets of authenticity and originality in Southport but generally, hipsters would currently perceive Southport to be unremarkable. To develop the population base of Southport an improvement in its appeal and desirability without losing its authenticity and originality is required.

The advantage of the hipster for the local community is that they have well-honed social awareness, a strong sense of self-worth, education and skills; all of which are developed during their 20s and 30s. For the hipster, it provides them with a social and economic advantage later in life. This demographic is more likely to be self-employed, entrepreneurs and tech savvy and at the forefront of new emerging industries. Generally, the hipster becomes a part of the future middle class within the local community, or more specifically the future lawyer, doctor, self-sufficient retiree or professional. The advantage of these types of occupations is that they service the local population as well as catering to the driver sector component of the economy. This is important as a CBD needs an outward focus to build its reputation and profile. Purely concentrating on population serving businesses and occupations makes the CBD inward focused and reliant on a narrow set of demand streams such as the needs of local residents and businesses. While the hipster trend is likely to rise and fall, consistent with most social trends over the decades, it is the ability to understand different demographic characteristics and achieve a balance across different groupings that is important for Southport.

Building the middle class through a diverse population base is crucial to enable different industries, occupations and businesses to develop within the CBD. It is important to strike that balance between population serving and driver sector businesses. While the attraction of large anchor tenants is important, the CBD will provide an environment where small and micro businesses can thrive, particularly start-ups and high tech innovative firms. Entrepreneurialism and the ‘have a go attitude’ are critical to facilitate within the CBD and it is important to attract the right demographic and population base for this to occur.

The CBD will consist of a mix of business clusters that draw trade from local, domestic and international markets with key clusters around sports administration and events, professional services, technology, creative and education. Supply chain support within the CBD is important as it will assist in diversifying the occupation and business base of the CBD. One disadvantage of Southport has been its over-reliance on the health sector. Diversifying the employment base mitigates some of this risk from downturns in a particular sector, market or relocation of a major employment anchor such as the hospital. The supply chain support includes companies that will grow and develop organically to support the needs of the business clusters and leverage the existing business focus. This includes:

  • The co-location of legal firms around the court house
  • Shared access to facilities such as data centres/infrastructure
  • Business support services such as accountants and marketing firms
  • Event based business leveraging off the sport administration cluster and infrastructure investment

Over time, to attract and retain the middle class to co-habit in the CBD, a diverse lifestyle and urban offering must be achieved. Providing the common supermarket-anchored shopping centre with the predictable butcher, baker, barber and bottleshop will not suffice to attract and retain this demographic.
To do this, culture and lifestyle needs to be activated at the street level. Outdoor spaces, live music venues, laneways, pop-up events, public art and galleries that provide organic activation and a positive pedestrian experience need to be enabled. Successfully incorporating a cultural environment across the CBD complemented with soft programs, spaces and events that support artists and arts organisations is crucial.

The traditional commercial centre of Southport is a good base to build the required businesses to support a diverse population base. Existing retailers such as the cobbler and sewing centre provide an old style retail offer for Southport, adding to its authenticity and originality. The evolution and uplift of the retail and service offer will be driven by the needs of the population as well as other demand drivers such as tourists and workers. It is the balance of the authentic, with new national and international retailers that is crucial to attract a diverse demographic for the CBD.

Another critical element to build the population of the CBD is the food and beverage offer. Southport needs to be more than just Chinatown, a shopping centre food court and some fast food outlets. There needs to be a point of difference across multiple themes and concepts such as waterfront dining, an “Eat Street” concept and outdoor dining. Themed and street based dining precincts work as significant enablers of demand within CBDs. A dining precinct is a critical element of a CBD’s retail strategy and requires a balance of choice, aesthetics and style to be effective as well as to benefit other core retail elements.

References: Campanella, R, 2013 Gentrification and Its Discontents: Notes from New Orleans www.newgeography.com. Gould-Kavet, A, The Demise of the Subcultural Identity: Toward a Postmodern Theory of the Hipster and Hipster Style. www.wikihow.com

In any given area the local population will drive the provision for employment that serves their needs. This type of employment can include schools, retail, household and personal services, health, etc. This component of the economy is referred to as the ‘population serving sector’. Another component of the economy, closely linked to the population needs component, is the construction sector.
The balance of the economy is typically referred to as the ‘driver sector’ component. The driver sector is essentially non-population serving and thus is driven by markets external to the Gold Coast.

Options to assist in attracting and building a diverse population base

A pivot of the traditional commercial centre to the Broadwater, the Parklands and surrounding skylines.

Competitive business and labour market i.e. the option for workers to move between different companies and businesses within the CBD, yet maintain their primary field of work.

The environment for small and micro local businesses to thrive, complemented by larger multinational firms.

Business environment harnessing collaboration across industries, shared ideas and combination workspaces all through shared access to digital technology and face-to-face interaction.

An iconic/signature attraction i.e. pier cinema of the early 1900s.

Heritage institutions/facilities i.e. highlight the cultural heritage and history of Southport.

Allow organic growth of the local area’s culture and lifestyle, maintaining its authenticity and originality.

Civic gathering and meeting points and spaces i.e. performing, live music, art galleries and events space.

Roof-top gardens, vertical planter boxes, sky terraces, community gardens, ground floor landscaping, pedestrian boulevards and main streets lined with tree canopies.

Fuse digital content and the natural environment such as way finders and information booths integrated in the urban landscape and digital screens to advertise, inform and educate.

Flexible and adaptable commercial spaces (on the street and within buildings) to cater to evolving population and workforce, institutions and businesses i.e. leverage co-spaces concept and the integration of technology into daily work activities.

Key Southport Characteristics


Since 2001 Southport has seen a 7% increase in its population aged 20-39 years. In 2011, this aged group represents 36% of the total population, compared to 29% a decade ago. This population placement has occurred along the main streets well serviced by public transport such as Queen, Nerang, Scarborough and North Streets and Marine Parade. The map opposite highlights the shift in age distribution in Southport.
In contrast, the proportion of the population aged 60+ years has decreased from 24% in 2001 to 22% in 2011.


In 2011, Southport comprised over 13,200 dwellings. The shift in dwellings has been to higher density housing. In 2011, 58% of dwellings are medium to high density compared to 51% in 2001. Separate houses declined from 39% in 2001 to 29% in 2011.
Southport’s rental market is also increasing. Today 54% of dwellings are rented, compared to 45% in 2001. Of these 7% are rented under housing authority.
The median house price in Southport at September 2013 was $412,000, compared to the city’s median of $466,000 in March 2013. In terms of units, the Southport median was $277,000, compared to the city’s average of $341,500.
Economic Update March 2014


A recent article in The Economist, which focuses on China, highlights the difficulty that large multinationals have experienced in the market and the importance that a well-developed strategic approach plays in successfully entering and remaining in the market. There are the long term challenges that have existed for some time, such as managing cultural and language barriers and overcoming government regulations and restrictions. These challenges are not likely to disappear but instead will be coupled with new issues as the Chinese market matures. While the size of the Chinese middle class is growing and with this their demand for consumer goods, so is their knowledge of brands and different products. Chinese consumers are becoming more savvy and are not necessarily brand loyal. Add to this, the difference in consumer preferences across China (in particular between the major cities and the more regional provinces). A key lesson that businesses, no matter their size, can take away from China is that they can no longer operate from the one location with a single strategy.

As with the national economy, 2014 will certainly be an interesting and challenging year for the Gold Coast. Conditions at the national level for the Gold Coast’s major industries are certainly more positive than they been in recent years and hopefully, 2014 will continue the renewed confidence found in the local economy in 2013.

Source: Real Estate Institute of Queensland, Queensland Market Monitor; Reserve Bank of Australia, Minutes of the Monetary Policy Meeting of the Reserve Bank Board, Sydney – 4 February 2014; Reserve Bank of Australia, Statement on Monetary Policy, February 2014; Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Global Markets Research, International Economics: Selected Issues, IMF WEO Update, January 2014 – Is the tide turning?; Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Global Markets Research, Economics: Issues, Australia in 2014 – risks & issues; based on Australian Bureau of Statistics, Building Approvals; The Economist, China loses its allure. Why life is getting harder for foreign companies., January 25th -31st 2014.

Disclaimer: Any representation, statement, opinion or advice, expressed or implied in this publication is made in good faith but on the basis that the City of Gold Coast, its agents and employees are not liable (either by reason of negligence, lack of care or otherwise) to any person for any damage or loss whatsoever which has occurred in relation to that person taking or not taking (as the case may be) action in respect of any representations, statement or advise referred to in this document.

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