Sky closes in on Chinatown Night Markets
- Jason Marshall
- Thursday, 13 December 2012
Controversy surrounds the City of Sydney Council’s tender for the Chinatown Night Markets amidst news a private company with a questionable commercial history will run the community organisation.
An association made up of stallholders, local businesses and community members known as Chinatown Food and Entertainment Incorporated (CFEI) have been running the markets since 2008, but they were recently tendered to private company Blue Sky Markets.
Vice President of CFEI Tim Wu said Council’s property department had attempted to obtain revenue from the community market since it became successful in late 2010. Mr Wu said though Council had never mentioned rent prior to this, they demanded back payments at the rate of $2,600 per day until it was pointed out not-for-profit organisations like CFEI were exempt from such levies.
Earlier this year, the administration of the community built and run market was put to tender on behalf of Council by global real estate services provider Colliers International, who valued the markets between $140,000 and $150,000.
“Effectively they’ve done a detour around the problem,” Mr Wu said.
CFEI launched a defensive tender but lost to the private company, Blue Sky Markets.
“We needed to secure this for the stallholders of Chinatown,” Mr Wu said. “We believe we should be entitled to it as well, since we created the market.”
Mr Wu said 85 per cent of existing stallholders had voiced concerns and do not want to be managed by an outsider.
“We organise a lot of Asian themed festivals, like Chinese New Year, the Moon festival, Christmas and Easter,” he said. “When it becomes commercialised, we fear that it will lose that identity.”
Mr Wu said he was concerned Blue Sky would inevitably kick out the existing stallholders to exert control.
“This seems to be the model they operate on … they don’t actually start anything but they go out there and they hunt,” he said. “They try to inherit the goodwill that’s already there and we see this as a social injustice.”
In April 2009, Blue Sky Markets won the tender to run the West End Markets in Brisbane. The community market was run for the previous six years by its founder, Peter Hackworth and had become a much-loved Brisbane institution. Immediately after the takeover, the number of stalls was slashed, sparking demonstrations.
Brisbane City Councillor Helen Abrahams said the West End Markets grew well beyond the initial contract with Blue Sky but mostly because of significant Council spending on market infrastructure.
“As a result, they are extremely successful, they are very crowded, but many of the local residents are no longer attending the markets because apart from being located under wonderful fig trees, they really could be a market anywhere in Brisbane,” she said.
Narrabeen Markets founder, David Stephens said Blue Sky took over his markets in 2006 under similar circumstances.
“I started the market, built it up from nothing for 12 years, and then the Council went and tendered it,” Mr Stephens said.
According to Mr Stephens, Blue Sky increased stall charges and put very little money into advertising. He said after four years the market was run into the ground.
“They used my goodwill to the max and now it’s down to about 40 to 60 stalls, from 220,” Mr Stephens said. “When Blue Sky took it over, many left because [they] jacked the rates up.”
Mr Stephens said existing stallholders from Blue Sky’s eastern suburbs markets replaced them.
Blue Sky Markets Managing Director, Ross Alexander said Narrabeen Markets are still popular, and though there are fewer stalls, there is a long waiting list.
Mr Wu said that given Blue Sky’s history, the Chinatown Markets are worried about a loss of heritage. He was grateful for Greens Councilor Irene Doutney’s help, but criticised Councillor Robert Kok.
“We thought he would [help us] but to this date, all he has said is he’ll look into this. That was two weeks ago and we haven’t heard from him ever since,” Mr Wu said.
Lord Mayor Clover Moore and the Council’s CEO had refused to meet with them, said Mr Wu.
A City of Sydney spokesperson said an independent panel was appointed to oversee expressions of interest because the current contract for operating the Chinatown Night Markets had ended.
“While Blue Sky Events is a commercial operator, the financial offer made in the expression of interest played a very minor role in the selection process,” the spokesperson said. “A revitalised market will reflect Chinatown’s unique identity and culture.”
Mr Alexander said Blue Sky Markets would distribute a letter to local businesses shortly and follow up with one-on-one consultations to obtain perspectives on the Markets. He said there was no plan to transfer stallholders from any other market, and claimed CFEI was overstating opposition to Blue Sky Markets.
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