Building Adelaide’s Future

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-By John Boley

The capital of South Australia, the country’s fifth largest city, has been transformed in recent years and is set to continue with its major makeover as it prepares for the future. Not only growing with it but a central pillar in its plan is local company Maras Group, a privately owned and operated South Australian company whose Directors have been at the forefront of commercial, retail and industrial property investment and development for over 30 years.

The company’s founder is Theo Maras, who as an architectural draughtsman found his way into developing and in 1980 teamed up with a partner to form Mancorp, primarily a commercial property investment and development firm that specialised in conversions of older style buildings such as old CBD office buildings and old factories and warehouses. A parting of the ways in 2006 led Theo to found Maras Group, at which time he brought son Steve into the business.

Steve, who had been working as a director of Knight Frank in the city, takes up the story. “We work pretty much only in SA – we like to keep it local, we know the local market pretty well and while we have looked at properties interstate, we prefer to keep it local. We manage all our properties in-house so it’s easier for us, anyway, to keep it specialised.”

That means the inner metropolitan area of Adelaide – “when we say SA we predominantly mean Adelaide CBD and inner metro” – and over the last 15 years or so, one of this area’s most significant city transformations has been the redevelopment of the former East End Adelaide Fruit & Produce Exchange Co Ltd, less formally known to all as the East End Markets (see sidebar – Rundle Street East).

Turnover among tenants in such a development is bad news, so is there a knack to choosing stable tenants and avoiding ‘churn’? “I don’t think there’s any secret to it, but we are very careful,” says Steve. “We very much investigate who the group is that’s coming in. We like to get to know the people on a personal level so we can learn quite a bit about their background and their trading history so we know what we are dealing with. With all these things there is an element of luck – you dodge the hard times when the economy changes – but really it’s about knowing what type of operator you want and mixing them – so we don’t have 13 Thai restaurants or 8 Italian restaurants. We want a mix so we give the consumer a choice. The proof is that these operators have lasted a long time and are doing well.”

Rundle Street East is now complete save for one more building to construct “and we are building our corporate offices on an existing building which will be ready hopefully March-April.” While its management division looks after these properties, Maras Group is concentrating its development resources a short drive away.

“Now we are focusing on an inner northern main road called Prospect Road, about 4 km north of CBD. We started looking about four years ago – it’s a very affluent district, considered to be one of Adelaide’s three most livable suburbs.” There are many buildings dating back to the early 1900s, and Steve maintains that its heart of commercial/retail properties has not kept pace with residential development, in terms of either the property and upgrades or its pricing.

“We managed to buy a couple of sites right in the village heart. Currently, following four years of planning, the Prospect council is upgrading the four or five blocks of Prospect Road – total road resurfacing, expansion of footpath, creation of outdoor dining areas, revamp of all areas of public seating and lighting, commissioned artworks to put on the street – to do something that will totally transform that strip and make it into an attractive high street which we hope in turn will encourage some of the owners down there to upgrade their buildings or put in development applications to build new.”

Now, adds Steve, there is also the prospect of being allowed to take your site upwards in terms of height (previously mainly ground floor with some first level, now there is the idea of shop-top housing, “as well as more boutique office space and the like”).

Maras Group is working on the western side, where there is “about 4,000 metres of new building space – ground floor fashion and eateries and we’re looking at a cinema complex on upper levels very similar to Rundle St – or we could be looking at a mix of offices and housing. We’d look at this because there is huge demand in Prospect for apartment living, something never done in the past but given its location and accessibility to the centre, it’s a good idea to look at buildings with living space in them too.”

On the company website, Steve Maras talks of being committed to “taking Maras to the next level,” so where is that? “We are a privately owned group, we don’t answer to anyone other than ourselves,” he responds. “We’re about creating communities within communities. Like Prospect – we are looking to build pockets of mixed-use and we want to be able to set our mark in that sort of development, breaking away from traditional city or CBD-type generic development work and creating sustainable long term multi-use developments that are community-oriented.

“We prefer to stay within 10 km radius of the CBD and there are still pockets (certainly to Adelaide’s north and south) that are underdeveloped.” New developments will be permitted to 5-6 storeys and beyond, designed to keep population growth within the area and not exacerbate sprawl. It is vital to retain the feel and nature of long-established areas, Steve stresses, but in addition “we want to see an Adelaide city that progresses” – he believes it lagged rather in the past two decades – “it needs more progress in fostering more residential living to not only encourage population growth but also accommodate the growth we are anticipating.”

Home Automation

Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?

July 14, 2020, 2:53 PM AEST