Exchanging the old for renewed

Parking in Water St. Photos by Gregor Richardson.
Parking in Water St. Photos by Gregor Richardson.
Decay in Rattray St.
Decay in Rattray St.
The former Chief Post Office in Princes St.
The former Chief Post Office in Princes St.
The private boxes doorway at the former Chief Post Office.
The private boxes doorway at the former Chief Post Office.
Street garden in the warehouse precinct in Vogel St.
Street garden in the warehouse precinct in Vogel St.

The low sun of a winter Wednesday fell on the Exchange and the warehouse precinct this week. David Loughrey visited an area struggling with the labour pains of rebirth and found decay, renewal and the failings of a city.

High heels have returned to the South.

They stab at its pavements and dig firmly into cafe floors among a small forest of chair and table legs.

Their owners discuss real estate with men in shirts with collars and ties, who have views on project management.

There is even talk of shares and stocks in the Exchange.

Because that area, and its close neighbour the warehouse precinct, are making a comeback.

But they remain torn between the old and the new, suits striding past the dispossessed in an area straining towards gentrification.

On a Wednesday morning at the southern end of the city centre, the history of decay is still present.

The dirty coat with frayed cuffs that has clothed Princes St and surrounds for so many years is yet to be thrown away.

Burnt-out or empty buildings line the side streets, beckoned by glitter-clad cut-outs of ladies promising something loosely related to gambling.

Some parts are, in fact, monuments to the worst sort of neglect.

But there is a feeling of sober and controlled exertion at the south end, as hard hats, fluoro vests and orange cones move in.

And the result can be seen at a cafe in a recently restored heritage building.

There are tasteful dark-stained chairs and tables, office workers in leather shoes and magazines on sustainable architecture.

A nearby conversation turns to the perils of moving house, and its comparison in trauma levels to divorce.

There are nosy neighbours, locksmiths and tradesmen to consider as the barista does his work.

It is the environment, on this occasion at least, of the well heeled.

It is also an island.

In the next block a dishevelled man in bare feet, despite the cold, shuffles by.

A woman with a vacant stare and lolling tongue leans on a building.

A half-hearted attempt to cover the window of an empty shop with an old photograph printed on to sheets of A4 paper has become quickly unstuck, and the result is a mess.

Doorways are thick with filth and dust.

These are the city's failings exposed.

But nearby is a lovingly redeveloped heritage building, and around the corner the former Chief Post Office is continuing to rub its eyes and lift its heavy frame from years of torpor.

And in the blocks behind that building, some serious work is under way.

In Bond St, decorators move sheets of Gib board; a block south, contractors water-blast the Stavely Building and a heavy roller vehicle parks at a pay and display meter.

Every roadway and traffic light in the area is surrounded by safety fences and cones.

A fat, well-dressed man leaves a tidy apartment block, and an office worker stares towards the harbour from a rooftop area at the back of the old post office.

Across the road from Pleasers massage parlour, two men smoke cigarettes in a private boxes entrance.

Back up the hill at another cafe in Princes St, the clientele includes businessmen discussing business.

''We're working really hard, I'm putting a man on a bonus,'' one says.

At a nearby table, two women interview another for a job.

It is a battle to cross the heavily dug up Crawford St, but the warehouse district around Vogel St has had much of its makeover and is now quiet.

All the paving stones are new, and trees and small gardens have popped up on the footpath.

A group of students with notebooks are herded out of a building.

A black and white cat sits in a doorway.

Cars huddle under the Jetty St overbridge.

An area renewed.

David Loughrey's column will return in three weeks.

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