BY ALEX EUGENE
The Kings Cross festival has become a trademark cultural event since its inception several decades ago. Once a year the precinct comes alive with wine and cheese tastings, kid-friendly activities, art exhibitions, live music and more. Last year the festival even hosted a cinema screening in Beare Park to add to its already packed repertoire.
But this year there will be no festival to enjoy, after City of Sydney council slashed funding without warning or any plan to replace the event.
“They haven’t said it’s for other projects, they haven’t been transparent as to whether funding will be distributed to other groups or whether they’ll do an event in the area,” said Louise Shepherd of the Potts Point Partnership, the organization who runs the festival.
Borne out of concern that Kings Cross was only seen as a shady red-light district, the objective of the festival was to help shine a more positive light on the area. The event helped to flaunt the artistic, charming side of the suburb that goes largely unnoticed.
Since the 2014 lockout laws came into effect the night economy has suffered, making the event even more crucial for businesses and local organisations.
Matt Sweiboda of local restaurant Waterman’s Lobster Co. said that 9.30pm used to be one of their busiest times, but since the lockout laws had come into effect there was almost no one in the area that late.
“Unfortunately the neighbourhood isn’t able to make up for the loss of traffic it suffered through the lockout laws, and we really feel that the council should be doing everything it can to help reinvigorate that area. It’s been very challenging for many of the business owners,” he said.
Mr Sweiboda said he was baffled that the council had withdrawn support when the event was such a long running success.
“We believe that being involved in the Kings Cross festival was a great way of introducing [the Lankelly Place] dining precinct to an audience that might otherwise overlook it. It was a very positive move for the neighbourhood,” he said.
But the council, who were evasive when questioned by City Hub, indicated that the organisers of the festival should look elsewhere for funding, rejecting responsibility despite having been its main benefactor until now.
A spokesperson from City of Sydney said: “The Kings Cross Festival is not a City of Sydney event. The festival is coordinated by the Potts Point Partnership.
“In 2015, the City provided a grant to Potts Point Partnership so they could conduct an independent review of the festival and develop a new business plan, including a financial model to attract funding from various sources.”
But the Potts Point partnership is run by volunteers and expected that the council would provide at least some support until they could find alternative finance.
However City of Sydney informed Ms Shepherd that the festival would be unsustainable in the long term, which they gave as the reason for denying funding this year.
Ms. Shepherd says the festival can still run in the short term.
“Our belief is that you should still support it in the short term, even if you don’t think it’s viable in three years. The area still needs it at the moment, businesses are still struggling, there’s still a negative perception problem.
“What we tried to do in 2016 was [have] a tighter budget in the hope that it would be financially sustainable over the medium term,” she said.
Despite a record turnout of almost 25,000 people in 2014, they had scaled the event back in 2016 to significantly reduce their costs – as the council wanted. The festival still received almost 10,000 visitors that year.
Tom Hespe from local business Grand Days Books said that as more and more apartments went up in Kings Cross and Potts Point, there was a fear that the area was becoming a “developers paradise” and community spirit was more important than ever.
“We got an opportunity to mix with other businesses as well as customers. It was a very low key but simple way of doing that, and I think it was really important for morale in the business community. We do like to feel part of the community and the whole identity of Kings Cross,” he said.
Ms Shepherd said there was proof the festival had helped foster community awareness.
“We had feedback that locals were coming to Llankelly place and saying they never knew that laneway existed. So you would assume there’d be some positive flow on effects of visitation after that. The festival created an opportunity to get some positive press, that was really beneficial for the area,” said Ms. Shepherd.
“We would definitely like to work with council in renewing a commitment to the laneway festival and to Kings Cross festival in general,” said Mr Sweiboda.