SYDNEY Council may re-examine how it awards grants after it was revealed a program created to encourage small businesses to the city’s LGBTI strip of Oxford St was set to refuse funding to a project designed to boost LGBTI small business numbers in the area, because the proposal wasn’t “creative” enough.

The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Business Association (SGLBA) told the Star Observer they had held talks with council staff about their eligibility for the Creative Spaces program that sources tenants for vacant city-owned retail units and offices on Oxford St by offering “small businesses, start-ups and entrepreneurs” discounted rents.

The proposal would see the organisation, which also runs the Fruits in Suits and Lemons with a Twist networking events, turn a shopfront into a “collaborative working space at the heart of the LGBTQI community providing support and social connections for entrepreneurs”, according to SGLBA director Will Noble.

“The council’s support will be passed through to users of the hub via discounted rates for members, special support for start-ups and incubation initiatives,” continued Nobel, who noted that many small business owners struggle with funding in their early years.

However, when the SGLBA approached council they were advised their proposal would, in all likelihood, be rejected.

While council documents show the program is aimed at transforming empty Oxford St properties into “vibrant, professional, activated spaces,” applicants also have to be “creative practitioners and enterprises”.

“The staff were very helpful but the answer was no, we don’t fit the criteria,” said Noble.

While acknowledging the SGLBA did not intend to limit the space to artists and graphic designers, Noble said the requirements were nevertheless too restrictive.

“Many of our entrepreneurs are creative by nature,” said Noble.

“By bringing these people together the exchange of ideas and the resulting creative output is inevitable.

“The program does seem prescriptive in terms of what tenants will meet the necessary criteria.”

Liberal councillor Christine Forster said she “absolutely and wholeheartedly” supported the SGLBA’s proposal.

“I have been very surprised at council’s lack of willingness to assist the SGLBA,” she said.

“The concept is a perfect match of creative and commercial start-ups and the Oxford St LGBTI precinct, which is in desperate need of economic activation.”

Forster said that under the proposal the SGLBA “would simply enjoy the same support many other creative and entrepreneurial enterprises are already being given by council”.

Labor councillor Linda Scott called on Lord Mayor Clover Moore to find a space for the hub.

“Having SGLBA on Oxford St would help activate the once famous street — something the Lord Mayor has failed to do for over a decade now,” she said.

Council said the Creative Spaces program provided affordable work and business space for more than 160 “artists and creative entrepreneurs” each quarter and had attracted 73,000 new visitors to the area since its inception.

Council confirmed that staff had met with the SGLBA but said it was a program requirement that all applicants demonstrate how they met the creative criteria.

But, a spokeswoman said, “The city will continue to work with the SGLBA to assist in their search for a suitable property that will enable them to realise their ambitions.”

At a committee last week, Moore indicated the proposal would be rexamined and will come up for a conversation at Monday’s council meeting.

“What’s refreshing is [councillors] seem to be saying ‘ok that doesn’t sound right let’s do something to help this group’,” said Noble.


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