New planning rules, endorsed unanimously by Council last month could see the implementation of the new Oxford Street cultural and creative precinct.
Plans which are intended to unlock redevelopment opportunities, encourage investment, stimulate business and activate streets and laneways – all while incentivising in the creation of more cultural and entertainment space.
Local business owners and residents have raised concerns that these new planning controls threaten Oxford Street’s longstanding rainbow identity.
Gaybourhood Or Construction Site During WorldPride 2023?
Terry Daly owns the Daly Male and has operated from the same location at 90 Oxford St since 1989. His business is now being forced to relocate due to the proposed developments and the leasing of buildings by City of Sydney to development company Ashe Morgan and their development partners, the Toga Group.
“A bike track down the middle of Oxford St for a start was not a good look” Daly told Star Observer, adding that “redeveloping three city blocks is a bit much for Oxford St. It’s not going to be the same.”
“I think it is going to lose its identity. You’re going to have a boutique hotel, restaurants and cafes where we currently are and shops opposite Universal. We are having to move down a block further because we need to be somewhere on the strip.”
Daly added that he like many others are concerned of what these developments will mean for Oxford Street’s image as one of the world’s few remaining gaybourhoods, should it still be a construction site come World Pride in 2023.
Council Owns Buildings On Oxford Street
Local historian Gary Witherspoon shares similar concerns, “What can we do, to bring it back to being an LGBTQI area?” Witherspoon asks.
“Council owns all of the buildings on the north side, and they’ve just leased that out to Toga Development and they’ve kicked out a lot of the old gay institutions.”
“If someone could come up with a plan to make Oxford Street great again, what would that be? There was talk about a queer museum, but is that going to draw people in?”
Proposals for a queer museum are similar to original plans for a community centre to be incorporated into future developments, but both have since vanished from more recent planning documents.
The LEP proposes heritage protections to the built form and allows increased commercial space to be built above existing building and increasing the over height limit. But they do not seek to protect the cultural or community purposes that the LGBTQI venues and business have served for decades. By not preserving the area’s LGBTQI identity, the City Of Sydney lags behind other global cities.
In San Francisco, on May 19, the Historic Preservation Commission voted, 7-0, to recommend to the Board of Supervisors Landmark Designation of the San Francisco Eagle Bar as an individual Article 10 Landmark. The Eagle has been a popular leather bar since 1981. Its landmark designation ensures that the site will not be redeveloped for other purposes for years to come.
While in London in January, developers promised to pay £100,000 to fund a “pop-up LGBTQI bar” to give Londoners an inclusive place to meet during the demolition and redevelopment of the popular gay venue The Joiners Arms. The local council in east London only agreed to the redevelopment of the site on the condition that the once popular queer establishment be restored, and a popup venue be provided in the meantime.
One local who believes that there is no possibility of Oxford St losing its rainbow identity is Stephen Gyory from the Darlinghurst Business Partnership.
“I’ve been in the area for over 20 years, and I think that (the LGBTQI+) identity is imbedded. When we spoke with Council we grilled them as well, and the people that Ashe Morgan put in charge of that building are all LGBTQ. Everyone who comes into the area knows that that’s the history and personality of the area,” Gyory told Star Observer.
Gyory added that the view of the Darlinghurst Business Partnership is that anything is better than nothing, and that they strongly believe bringing more people into the area is going to help improve it.
The proposal to rezone Oxford Street now goes to the State government and will be considered by the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.