RESIDENTS of the inner Sydney suburb of Darlinghurst may soon be able to have a latte in a lavatory with City of Sydney planning to revamp and turn a disused Taylor Square toilet block into a potential café and art gallery.

Meanwhile, it has been revealed that retail giant Woolworths is keen to open a supermarket in the heart of Oxford St — with council forking out three quarters of a million dollars to enable the development.

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Asbestos removal and repairs to the façade and roof of a disused electricity substation and toilet block, opposite the Oxford Hotel at Taylor Square, were approved earlier this week by council.

Built in 1904, the substation was one of the first constructed in Sydney and is listed on the NSW State Heritage Register.

In 1938, a women’s toilet was built in the basement while a men’s toilet is adjacent.

Closed in 1998, the toilets have become a home for temporary artworks including sculptures and guerrilla knitters, while in 2012 the men’s loos were briefly reopened for an art instillation called A Leaf From the Book of Cities.

The work, which is concentrated on the substation and women’s toilet, is due to be completed by April 2015.

Council approved a development application for a possible café and gallery on the site in January.

However, a council spokesperson said they were “still looking into the best mix of options for the future use of the site” and tenants will be sought following the repairs.

Pride History Group president Robert French told the Star Observer the toilets have been an enduring feature of the area and he remembered scaling the men’s structure to get a better view of Fred Nile’s 1989 march that attempted to unsuccessfully “cleanse” Oxford St of homosexuality.

Despite its position in the heart of Sydney’s gay-centric neighbourhood, French said the toilet block wasn’t a notorious beat, “probably because it was in a fairly public area and close to Darlinghurst police station which would be quite negative”.

However, Darlinghurst Business Partnership president Stephen Gyory told the Star Observer he doubted whether the toilet block would ever be converted.

“It would be lovely but I’ve seen it come up again and again every year — it’s just hot air,” he said.

Gyory was more positive about the prospects of a major supermarket coming to Oxford St, saying a new Woolworths would attract people to the area.

“The bottom line is that it’s an endorsement of the street by a company that knows how to run the numbers,” he said.

“If Woolies thinks they can compete with the bakeries and cafes of Darlinghurst, bring it.”

Council has given the green light to a proposal which would see 58-64 Oxford St and a disused tenancy on Foley St leased to the retailer.

The supermarket would have a 23m frontage to Oxford St in a space currently occupied by a variety of retailers, including Iku Wholefoods.

Seven shops on Foley St would be made available to “creative tenants”.

At the recent council meeting, Lord Mayor Clover Moore said the new supermarket was a “terrific proposal in terms of increasing footfall that will be a fillip for local businesses and the 20,000 people who live near Oxford St”.

Council, rather than Woolworths, will contribute $750,000 towards the cost of a new substation to provide upgraded power to the building.

A council spokesperson said the need for an additional substation had already been identified and “the city has negotiated with Woolworths to arrange installation… to coincide with work on the new store”.

A Woolworths spokesperson told the Star Observer that until a development application was lodged they couldn’t answer questions about the new store, including what facilities it would have or if the company was committed to the continued operation of their existing supermarket on Bourke St.

However, council papers stated the store would feature a fresh bakery and coffee shop, prepared food “for now and later” and would be “aesthetically appealing, a move away from the traditional supermarket look and feel”.

This suggests the store would be similar to Woolworths’ compact Woolloomooloo store.

The store would be the retailer’s fourth in Sydney’s gay-centric neighbourhood, with a new branch opening just this week in Surry Hills opposite Central railway station.

This follows the closure three months ago of the Woolworths’ up-market Thomas Dux grocery store on Crown St, Surry Hills.

The city end of Oxford St already features an IGA store while the Duffy Brothers supermarket is almost directly opposite the proposed Woolworths.

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