Manny Notaras. Photo: Lyn Mills
Concerns have been raised about a federal department leaving Civic as parts of the Canberra's CBD continue to struggle with falling sales, rising vacancy rates and plummeting property values.
A spokeswoman for the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service confirmed it was ''reviewing options for our Canberra offices'', as the leases on its buildings on Constitution Avenue end in 2016. Customs has three buildings in Civic - two on Constitution Avenue and one on Allara Street - with 1460 staff spread across the locations.
Canberra CBD Limited chairman Manny Notaras said he believed Customs was looking at moving elsewhere in Civic, to Barton or to Brindabella Park at the airport.
Neither Customs nor the Finance Department, which organises leases for government tenants, would comment on possible locations.
Mr Notaras said the loss of the department would be another blow to Civic, which he believed should be an engine room for the ACT economy.
Instead, parts of it, such as Garema Place, City Walk and the Sydney and Melbourne buildings, were struggling to compete.
In an opinion piece for Saturday's The Canberra Times, Mr Notaras presents his private views about the future of Civic, including advocating a station for a very fast train being located in the CBD rather than at the airport. He has also called on ACT government to form a statutory authority which would focus on the development and promotion of the city's commercial heart.
But it is in his official capacity as chairman of Canberra CBD Limited, which markets and maintains Civic, that Mr Notaras has sounded the alarm about the possible relocation of Customs.
Mr Notaras said he ''fully accepted'' that other players, such as Brindabella Park, should compete for government tenants but there was a ''shovel-ready'' site at the Section 63 car park on London Circuit that could accommodate Customs - and the ACT government should be paving the way.
Leighton and Mirvac paid a record $92 million in 2008 for the car park, and have been waiting for a tenant ever since.
Colliers International ACT chief executive Paul Powderly, acting on behalf of what is now known as City West Holdings Limited, confirmed on Friday it was seeking government tenants for the car park site.
Mr Notaras says town centre shopping centres are performing better than parts of the CBD, when the reverse was true elsewhere. Retail vacancy rates in some parts of Civic were approaching 15 per cent while in the Sydney CBD they were about 3 per cent.
Mr Notaras said some property values in Civic had dropped by 20 per cent over the last five years.
He has refused to criticise retail behemoth The Canberra Centre, saying it had revitalised that part of Civic. ''Regrettably the mid-city precinct which takes in Garema Place, City Walk and the Sydney and Melbourne Buildings is struggling to compete with other parts of the city,'' he wrote.
Mr Notaras believed the future of the CBD could be positive, especially with planning initiatives such as the City to the Lake project.