BY CHRISTOPHER HARRIS AND LYDIA WATSON-MOORE
Once the jewel in the city’s crown, attempts to revive the ailing Oxford Street have been as ineffectual as they have been numerous.
But with both Woollahra and City of Sydney councils investing strategies to give the strip a sense of place, the Darlinghurst Business Partnership has abandoned any attempt to revive the area.
Stephan Gyory, president of the Darlinghurst Business Partnership, labelled any effort as null and ineffectual, as RMS had converted the strip into “a six lane highway” and ignored the commercial need for parking.
“This is the problem, every revitalisation attempt you try and do is going to run up against this hurdle, so all you can really do is cosmetic stuff to Oxford Street. So we as a business partnership stopped talking about revitalising Oxford Street because it’s undoable,” he told City Hub.
“Oxford Street still has a bunch of cute little things happening all over it, but our strategy is to show people Darlinghurst- show people these other hotspots and cool little street corners,” he said.
Yet despite the group’s refocus, Woollahra and City of Sydney councils are continuing to pledge significant funds to Oxford Street revitalisation.
In 2013, Woollahra Council employed urban consultants firm Village Well to create a sense of place around the strip, and earlier this year created the Manager of Placemaking position, which the council said demonstrates its commitment to the strip.
A spokesperson from the council said there was still room to implement more recommendations from their Activate Program that stipulated engagement with the community and a diversified retail and hospitality mix.
“The successful implementation of these recommendations rely on the co-operation of individual property owners. Woollahra Council is grateful to those businesses who have demonstrated leadership in this regard and we are looking forward to working with more local businesses who are interested in taking a proactive approach to activating Oxford Street,” the spokesperson said.
City of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore said the council was working hard with local businesses, Woollahra Council and property owners to invigorate the street.
“Over the last six years we have invested over $45 million on projects to improve Oxford Street, including upgrading footpaths, installing new lighting and providing new seating and landscaping.”
The council claimed it has brought 73,000 new visitors into the area and that tenants had spent $1.4 million since the program began.
Oxford Real Estate agent Sally-Anne McQuillan said that over the past few years the vacancy rate has decreased dramatically because the landlords had dropped rents.
“Oxford Street has really turned around from a few years ago when there were around 70 ‘for lease’ signs from Hyde Park to Moore Park, at Oxford Agency we now currently only have three active listings along Oxford Street.”
Later this year, owners of Ivy nighclub Merivale, will open two new venues on the street.
A City of Sydney Council spokeswoman said the council was committed to the strip.
“The City works closely with the business chambers and we recently awarded a grant of $75,000 to the Darlinghurst Business Partnership to undertake a range of projects including marketing.”
However Mr Gyory said the partnership won’t be trying to ‘market’ the strip to locals anytime soon.
“People in Darlinghurst don’t respond to advertising,” he said.
“Most people up here have pretty good bullshit detectors and the kind of people who would like Darlinghurst aren’t going to respond to marketing anyway, so the whole aim is to empower.”
Mr Gyory said the partnership was empowering local Darlinghurst business to collaborate through quirky events, under the hastag DoDarlo.
“DoDarlo is not a brand, it’s actually an imperative. We want shops to do events with their neighbours, have fun and use their spaces,” he said.
Ms McQuillan said that better public transport and infrastructure would improve the street.
“If the light rail was to run up Oxford Street, on to Flinders Street and across to Moore Park this would be great for business and would further activate the local area,” she said.
Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian has previously said that the government would consider further light rail options along Oxford Street once the CBD and South East Light Rail is underway.
Sydney MP Alex Greenwich agreed that traffic issues were a key turmoil for Oxford Street.
“There is strong support for allowing parking for longer hours along Oxford Street to improve business and pedestrian conditions. I continue to push for the government to further reduce clearway restrictions,” he said.
Mr Gyory said that while RMS is unlikely to change their “19th century mentality” anytime soon, the business partnership would like to see Oxford Street as a “sophisticated night economy”.
“What we would like to see on a state level is a recognition that Darlinghurst isn’t the CBD, and have them carve it out of the area as well, and we would like to see it as a more sophisticated 24 hour economy, with movies that screen at midnight and shops that stay open late and wine bars – a late night economy that isn’t based on getting pissed and passing out.”