Oxford Street is in desperate need of a makeover. The main drag has definitely seen better days. Not long ago a diverse range of gay bars, queer-owned shops and LGBTQI community services lined the world famous gay high street. Nowadays vacant shops, convenience stores, fast food outlets and discount retailers line the tarnished Golden Mile.
For nearly two decades the area has been mismanaged and neglected by the boulevard’s primary landlord, the City of Sydney. Last year Council decided to step aside and let professional developers do their thing. The City has entered into a 99–year lease agreement with AsheMorgan, tuning much of the north side of Oxford Street (between Hyde Park and Taylor Square) over to property developers.
Confirming this news, Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore told Star Observer, “Last year we leased three significant City of Sydney buildings, representing 40% of the street frontage between Oxford Square and Taylor Square, to real estate investment group AsheMorgan.” Whether or not the precinct will retain its LGBTQI identity once the area is redeveloped remains a pressing question for Sydney’s queer community.
Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald on February 28, Michael Koziol reported: ”Perhaps, however, Oxford Street’s time has come. Owners and developers are investing hundreds of millions of dollars with big plans to install boutique hotels, gentrified pubs and creative spaces, as the council embarks on a review of planning laws in anticipation of a massive new ‘creative and cultural precinct.’”
Neither AsheMorgan nor its partner TOGA was willing to provide further comment about their commitment to retaining the area’s LGBTQI identity when approached by Star Observer, citing the development applications were currently before council.
Instead, a representative of TOGA referred us to a media release dated October 19, 2020, in which there is no direct reference to the local LGBTQI communities. Scrubbing any such wording, Fabrizio Perilli, CEO of TOGA, instead states that the company wishes to create a “diverse, and uniquely Darlinghurst precinct, that reflects the values of the local community and the significant heritage of the area” words that remain loose in their interpretation.
Yet this is just the tip of the iceberg. Moelis, the company who purchased both Kinsella’s and the Courthouse Hotel, remained similarly tight-lipped about their plans for their two Taylor Square venues, despite being quick to distance themselves from other developers swooping in on the area. Citing that it was “too early in the process to give Star Observer a determinate answer” on what their plans for these venues actually entail.
One person who is adamant that “Oxford Street’s LGBTQI identity must be considered when assessing and approving future development plans for the area” is Councillor Kerryn Phelps.
“Times move on and things change, but Oxford Street has so much history and significance for the LGBTQI+ community that this must be respected and preserved for the future,” Phelps told Star Observer.
“Oxford Street is the birthplace of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras and it has been the heart and soul of the LGBTQI+ community for decades… It is very worrying that the DAs for Oxford Street were submitted to the City in October and are yet to be approved. This delay is concerning, particularly in the preparation for World Pride 2023.”
Yet this has done little to quell the fears of many in our communities, including Kerryn Phelps who is running for Lord Mayor this coming September. If elected to the role Phelps has said she would “convene an LGBTQI+ advisory committee to give feedback on City proposals that affect the LGBTQI community.”
“A group like that would be a much-needed addition to the City’s processes. Despite being an elected Councillor for the past five years, it is crazy that even I have not been consulted on LGBTQI+ issues.
“This will be particularly important when it comes to Oxford Street and Sydney’s preparations to host World Pride 2023. If Oxford Street, the iconic heart of Sydney’s LGBTQI+ community, is a construction zone for one of the biggest LGBTQI celebrations this century, it could be a disaster.”
Concluding, Phelps adds that “during World Pride the City of Sydney and our LGBTQI+ community will be on the global stage. It needs a focus, and Oxford Street can be that focus.”