The brainchild of Aspect Architect directors Graham Secombe and Wade Eiser, Walton Stores was envisioned as a way to draw locals and tourists into the city centre. Secombe and Eiser had been watching the site for some time from their newly designed offices in the Saba Building directly across the road. The looming expansion of Toowoomba’s largest shopping centre spurred them into action.
While the initial concept was set in action by Aspect Architects, the project quickly gathered steam as like-minded business people, notably Newlands Construction and Civil, jumped on board. With their combined resources, a site of 5000 square metres was purchased from a single entity. The site was then further increased with several adjoining properties. “We were concerned about the impact the new Grand Central may have on the historical heart of the city,” says Secombe. “So we brought together a collective of local like-minded business
While the project is commercial, its roots are in altruism. It is clear that Secombe loves the city and wants to preserve and celebrate its history and architecture. “The CBD died for more than a decade after the first stage of Grand Central came to fruition. You can go into any big box retail centre in the world and they’re basically the same. Rejuvenation of a city’s historical core is what ultimately sets them apart.”
Secombe and his partners took considerable time to find the right mix of restaurants. Tony Kelly (ex Stokehouse, Brisbane) and business partner Scott Hoskins were pivotal in setting the tone. Together they have three licensed venues within the development – Hello Harry, which serves upmarket burgers and craft beer; Junk Asian Street Food, serving up plates inspired by Thai, Korean, Japanese and Cantonese street food, and Two Birds, a new take on a classic fried chicken restaurant. Other vendors include the popular icecream franchise Nitrogenie (icecream frozen by liquid nitrogen) and a
The precinct will continue to open stages. More food vendors, including Japanese restaurant Harajuku Gyoza, will open this year. In addition to the restaurants and commercial office space, an internal alley has been specially set aside for boutique retail tenants.
One of the most notable features of Walton Stores is the outdoor communal space. A large screen and a stage allow entertainment to bring people together. Earlier this year, the Australian Open tennis played to a packed venue, and more recently the area hosted live music as part of the Toowoomba Laneway Festival. Farmers markets take place each Saturday across the site; something Secombe hopes will expand in future.
Undoubtedly the first precinct of its kind in the city, Walton Stores has a unique mix of food vendors and commercial tenants. With the promise of boutique retailers, more restaurants and community involvement to come, one can only hope this is not the last.