Builders broke ground on the first of these carefully staged developments in March, an investment of $180m signalling QICGRE’s commitment to long-term value enhancement on one of Australia’s most strategic pieces of retail real estate.In what will be a boon for commuters and retailers, the first phase of development delivers a pedestrian underpass connecting Castle Towers directly to the concourse of Castle Hill Station, the all-new rail interchange through which Australia’s first driverless passenger trains are scheduled to pass every four minutes at peak hour when it opens at the end of May. Thanks to strong collaboration between Transport for NSW and QICGRE, Castle Towers is the only shopping centre to seamlessly connect with the Sydney Metro’s new Northwest line without users needing to exit above ground first, further affirming the asset's centrality in local life.
Luke Young, General Manager – Retail at QICGRE, says: “With the population of The Hills expected to swell by 55,000 residents during the next decade, and one of Australia’s most significant infrastructure developments revolutionising connectivity with our largest city, we’re looking at a perfect storm for Castle Towers.”
He adds: “At the same time, our deep knowledge of The Hills community puts the onus on us to set the benchmark for convenience and productivity with the centre’s staged transformation, and that calls first and foremost for a human-centred design approach.”
This focus on liveability is powering the construction of a new underground mall that will make it easy for those flowing from the station underpass to complete a range of life administration tasks in the one place, as well as grab a bite to eat on the move or stock up on fresh produce for the family table. “We could not be more excited about this new cross-functional mall, which we have envisioned as a village of interlocking customer experiences. The time, consideration and care we have taken to reach this point means we now have the strongest possible foundation for evolving Castle Towers into the new town centre that this thriving region needs,” says Young.
As proof of its commitment to visitor experience, QICGRE has enlisted award-winning hospitality design firm Luchetti Krelle to lead the interior design of the new mall, which activates space previously given over to carparking. As the interior architects behind lauded Sydney restaurants such as Banksii and Saké, Luchetti Krelle is aligned with QICGRE in its ambition to blend style and function in hitherto unseen ways for a suburban mall, and a subterranean one at that.
Young believes the tone has been set for the shopping centre’s ongoing evolution, led by the enthusiasm of both new and relocating tenants, and the spirit of innovation that the development is encouraging them to embrace. He adds: “We are known for the considered design of our developments and expect this new mall and the associated ambient upgrades to deliver a real shot in the arm to what is already a high-performing asset.”
One side of the mall will house a food court featuring a mix of category-leading Gen Z-friendly brands and new-to-trade-area food and beverage operators offering health-conscious options. Tenancies and seating in this non-traditional food court are organised according to empathic design principles that welcome a range of uses. Here, someone wishing to eat lunch while they work on their laptop will feel just as comfortable as the grab-and-go shopper.
Young explains: “We’re melding environments and usages, which means moving away from the traditional sea of seating you associate with a food court. Instead, you’ll find an array of booths, sit-at bars and cosy seating solutions dispersed throughout the mall.”
With a living room-like ambiance and an abundance of live plants used to soften the space and foster a sense of privacy between different seating blocks, the welcoming environment is designed to appeal to consumers who might otherwise avoid an exposing communal seating area.
In addition to colouring the environment, each hub of greenery comes equipped with multiple power ports to ensure visitors can remain digitally connected at all times, not least the young people who frequent the existing food court on their way home from school.
Seating hubs continue into a fresh food marketplace at the heart of the mall, where shoppers are encouraged to linger and interact with retailers who are as passionate about quality ingredients as they are. “We’re bringing together some of the country’s best purveyors of fresh produce and artisanal foods to celebrate food in ways that The Hills community hasn’t experienced before,” says Young.
While fresh food has always been a buoyant category for Castle Towers, with market leaders such as The Costi's Fishmarket and Deli Del Mondo calling the centre home, the competition for lettable space has reached new heights since last year’s remix of The Piazza dining precinct.
Young explains: “The success of our tenancy remix strategy on The Piazza, which introduced the likes of Betty’s Burgers and The Bavarian to Castle Hill, exceeded even our expectations and has provided the perfect springboard for an exemplary food offering in the new mall.”
A cohesive visual identity and sense of calm will be perpetuated across the new food retail and service environments through warm and homely design elements such as textured timbers and terracotta sconce lighting. Soothing, paperbark forest-inspired art by Sydney painter Oliver Watts will also line upholstery, table tops and kiosk canopies. In short, Luchetti Krelle is bringing the same balance of artisanal aesthetics and modern comfort to Castle Towers as found in many of the country’s best designed restaurants. Then, at the point where the marketplace meets existing infrastructure, shoppers will enter the newly refurbished Coles Castle Hill.
Opposite the food court, in close proximity to the station, sits a nerve centre of service providers including a bank, barber, dry cleaner and pharmacy. Young says: “One of the things we’re proud of at QICGRE is creating places that serve people’s whole-life needs, and here that includes mitigating the stress that a seemingly never-ending list of life administration duties can bring by collecting a range of essential services under one roof.”
Above ground, QICGRE’s long-term collaboration with Transport for NSW will see the historic Arthur Whitling Park reinstated on the doorstep of Castle Towers. The redeveloped green space is due to include new children’s play areas and public artworks, bridging the gap between community events and shopping centre-led activations in the outdoors. Young comments: “It’s a real bonus for Castle Towers to be part of the park redevelopment because our goal is to build human-centric environments where customer experience blends seamlessly with recreational opportunities and public services.”
This development phase also includes “significant remixing” of the retail offering and extensive upgrades to communal areas on the upper levels of Castle Towers, he says. “The work we’re doing in the area above the new mall will lead to the introduction of several new fashion, lifestyle and homewares brands to Castle Hill, including at least one international mini-major and a leading youth retailer,” adds Young.
A range of economic and structural factors contribute to making Castle Towers one of the most compelling assets within the QICGRE portfolio, but that is not the full story. “The reason Castle Towers is a unique proposition is that it has remained at the heart of local life in a way that other shopping centres of its size have not,” suggests Young.
The fact that moving annual turnover already exceeds $730m and ABS data puts annual household income in the projected main trade area at 20 percentage points above the Sydney average certainly does not hurt. Indeed, property research firm Urbis predicts that come 2021, household spending on groceries and catering will surpass the Sydney median by 14 and 11 percentage points respectively.
Higher density residential development is opening the suburb up to those outside the established high-income, car-reliant family norm. Young says: “The pipeline of apartment developments is great news for us and for the community. It means more housing options for young people who have grown up here and previously been priced out of the suburb.”
With thousands of commuters expected to board the Northwest metro line at Castle Hill Station each weekday, Castle Towers will also be easily accessed by those transiting through the suburb thanks to the 60-minute transfer time allowance on Opal travel cards.
Castle Towers will remain open for business throughout the works, with the staged opening to commence in late 2019. Young says: “This integrated retail and transport proposition is a real game-changer for our community and a sign that Castle Towers can be a beacon of progress for The Hills.”
Find out more about our vision for Castle Towers on the Places pages.