As Asian-influenced community hubs continue to flourish throughout Australia’s major capital cities, Victoria’s Box Hill is the latest setting benchmarks for large-scale, fast-paced development.
The area 14km east of Melbourne’s CBD has one of the State’s strongest representations of Asian cuisines and retail. Now latest research by commercial property giant CBRE shows the full extent of activity in and around Box Hill, a region already identified as Victoria’s fastest growing commercial centre outside Melbourne’s city centre that contains almost 150,000 square metres of office space.
In the past five years, Box Hill’s population grew 26% according to government surveys, the same time period in which the area also saw one of Melbourne’s biggest building booms with dozens commercial and residential towers either approved, under construction or completed.
Residential property has also experienced a significant uplift with median house prices rising 147.2% in the past decade according to CoreLogic, a figure that ranks among the State’s highest. Furthermore, the Australian Bureau of Statistics forecasts a 191% increase in the number of dwellings to be developed by 2036.
With Box Hill now referred to as Melbourne’s “second CBD”, property observers see the Whitehorse Local Government Area suburb becoming one of if not the major commercial and activity hubs of the city’s east. The CBRE report notes that the entire region is benefitting from substantial government funding and infrastructure combined with aggressive town planning that prioritises high density living.
“Box Hill is now offering a genuine alternative to the Melbourne CBD for investment, employment, entertainment and a place to stay,” says Paul McAleer, former planning manager of the City of Whitehorse.
Chinatown Mark II
Key among Box Hill developments is the $450 million “New Chinatown” project. Announced in May this year by Golden Age, New Chinatown is part of the developer’s mixed-use Sky Village development comprising two 18-storey towers of 429 luxury apartments which will rise above this new 10,000 sqm precinct.
Golden Age describes New Chinatown as a “revolutionary hospitality, retail, commercial and healthcare precinct”, a one-stop destination of lifestyle and entertainment offerings, constructed in a fusion of traditional Eastern and modern Western design philosophies and connected by floating walkways and winding pathways. The Sky Village project, located in Station Street and designed by Fender Katsalidis, will be the developer’s third Box Hill project. Golden Age founder Jeff Xu said the company’s vision in creating New Chinatown was to expand on as well as celebrate the cultural, historic and gastronomic ties the Box Hill area had with Melbourne CBD’s long-established Chinatown.
Helping fuel this growth are a raft of major public and private sector institutions and the tens of thousands of people they bring into the suburb. Among them are Deakin University with over 50,000 students, Box Hill Hospital which admits 50,000 patients annually and the Box Hill Institute with 65,000 students and hundreds of employees.
Last but certainly not least are the plans slated for Box Hill’s transport network, namely the Box Hill Transit Interchange. This is already Melbourne’s the second busiest train-bus interchange in Melbourne’s metropolitan network. Now a newly proposed $50 billion train line would create a fast, efficient link for Melbourne’s outer suburbs in a route circumventing the inner city. This ‘Super Loop’ will connect key stations on every suburban line, delivering Box Hill a direct link to Clayton and Melbourne Airport and allowing businesses in the area to foster stronger ties with other commercial precincts and residential suburbs. CBRE observes that this will result in “the distinctive multicultural hub of Box Hill growing even further and faster”, while the Box Hill Interchange Ministerial Advisory Group forecasts patronage to grow by more than 45% by 2031.
Changing of the guard
Melbourne CBD’s Chinatown is also experiencing fast-paced shifts, new-style businesses overtaking the old as large-scale residential developments take shape around them. The number of Chinatown businesses changing hands and owners requiring commercial real estate advice prompted commercial agent Jonathan Lu to form his boutique agency Grandfield Property a few years ago to service their needs. “It’s not only the owners but also the tenants who now require specialist advice,” Mr Lu says. “The new operators coming in don’t know what the contracts are or what sites would be suitable for their types of businesses.”
Mr Lu says this is being driven by the demise of the traditional family restaurant in favour of modern outlets as fried ice-cream and spring rolls fall out of fashion in favour of matcha affogatos, bubble tea and dumplings. Rates per square metre in Chinatown and Box Hill can be more than double those of other commercial precincts as demand is so high from these newer operators, he says, with long standing family-run Chinese eateries selling to up-and-coming Asian food chains and ‘lifestyle’ cafes capitalising on Asian cuisine’s healthy image, menus heavy on tofu and sashimi salads instead of chicken chow mein and sweet and sour pork. “Old style hospitality businesses are struggling,” Mr Lu says. “Now we have a lot of Chinese bubble tea tenants on the waiting list for suitable sites… and across the board there’s high demand from the Chinese restaurant and hospitality sector and short supply of premises in the areas of Chinatown they want to be.”