GPT taps coworking provider Worksmith for Melbourne Central

Developers are always opening precincts with new bars. But the origin of this one is different. And while it says a lot about the changing taste for mixed drinks and local provenance that GPT is hoping to mine, it also represents the start of a big change in commercial property services.

The link between Whearty, a finalist in last year’s Tales of the Cocktail International Bartender of the Year awards and GPT, came through Worksmith, a food-and-beverage industry-focused coworking space that develops new hospitality offerings and works with landlords to curate their space.

Founded by property developer Roscoe Power and restaurateur Michael Bascetta, it also taps the growing recognition of landlords for food-and-beverage offerings that are increasingly important to attract visitors and residents.

It’s a new combination of talents, and a sign of the evolution taking place in property services.

And it’s a new response to retail. The above-station development that is Melbourne Central has 59 million people pass through it each year, Bascetta says. Byrdi will be one of 16 retail tenancies in a 2000-square-metre space that previously just had two large tenants.

The precinct linking Elizabeth and La Trobe streets – called ELLA – will also include restaurants, an optometrist and a coworking venue run by Worksmith, focusing on drinks. The consultancy already has a coworking space in Collingwood focused on food development.

“ELLA is responding to a different type of customer and offer,” says Stuart Macleod-Smith, GPT’s development manager. “We’re looking to provide a place that speaks to them, a place with purpose and conscience as well.”

The gap between ASX-listed REITs and hipster bar owners is big and there’s an opportunity to close it.

“Worksmith is becoming that connector,” says Bascetta, who co-owns Bar Liberty in Collingwood and last year also opened Capitano, an Italian-American restaurant in Carlton.

Worksmith brokers introductions to entrepreneurs in its own hospitality network such as Whearty, who readily points out there’s a ‘stigma’ in his industry to the big end of town, often seen as wanting to control any venture.

Whearty says the relationship with GPT is collaborative and gives him access to well-positioned locations that small players like him would not otherwise get.

GPT isn’t the only one thinking along new lines. Worksmith has been talking to GPT rivals Mirvac and Frasers Property Australia. Frasers’ executive general manager for retail, Peri Macdonald, says it is looking at different ways to keep its food and beverage offering fresh for shopping centres.

As urban Australia intensifies, the pressure is on developers of mixed-use precincts to create spaces with eating and drinking spaces that match the community they have created, or wish to create.

“You’ve got to be doing something unusual to bring people into these spaces,” says Worksmith director Power.

Far from the retail being an afterthought, hospitality could in fact offer pulling power when selling apartments.

“If you could announce who was going into the basement before you built, you could arguably even charge more,” he says.

Whearty says the menu for Byrdi is still under construction but will have about 10 mixed drinks and change every three months.

He doesn’t name drinks, but gives an example of one he concocted in October in London, when he and wife Aki Nishikura ran another Byrdi pop-up at London’s Scout bar.

“We did a drink called War on Strawberries,” he says. “It was during that strawberry sewing-needle fiasco.

“We took local strawberries from a small British producer, we then fermented the strawberries with ricotta whey – we made ricotta for a bar snack and then the whey was used to ferment the strawberries – and then that created a self-carbonated drink.

“And it was infused with fig leaves as well, which we foraged from down the road. It was a tall, refreshing drink which tastes of fig leaf, which has a coconut sort of flavour, strawberries, ricotta whey. And it was a local gin that we used. So I guess something similar to that.”

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