Small businesses suffering from delayed construction on Oxford Street offered little assurance by developers and council

Small businesses suffering from delayed construction on Oxford Street offered little assurance by developers and council
Image: Oxford Street at Taylor Square. ArliftAtoz2205, Shutterstock

 

An information session with developers Ashe Morgan has failed to assure the small businesses suffering from delayed construction on Oxford Street. 

Roughly one hundred individuals, mostly small business owners, were present at the event on Wednesday night. Hosted by the Darlinghurst Business Partnership, the session also saw Lord Mayor Clover Moore and other City of Sydney representatives attend. 

The representative from Ashe Morgan said construction would be finished by the first half of next year. But small business owners were audibly disgruntled that they had not been updated on the delays, which have now stretched well beyond the expected timeframe. 

At the beginning of the meeting, Steph Győry from Darlinghurst Business Partnership said to the room that everyone needed to “come together and focus on the positive. If we continue dragging down Oxford Street, it becomes self-perpetuating”. 

The Ashe Morgan representative said, “It’s always darkest before dawn.”

“There’s still a bit more suffering to go but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” he continued.

“And I know you don’t want to hear this, but a lot of money is going into Oxford Street.”

Efforts to revitalise Oxford Street

The $200 million project aims to create a parallel street behind Oxford Street (Foley Street) in a Melbourne-style laneway that offers outdoor dining and entertainment.

In 2018, in an effort to revitalise the area, City of Sydney began a campaign seeking interest in a 99-year lease for three commercial Oxford Street buildings.

Ashe Morgan, in partnership with developer TOGA Group, signed on 99-year leases on the buildings in 2019.

The three properties are situated at the northern end of Oxford Street, numbers 56-76, 82-106 and 110-122, and occupy more than 40 per cent of the street frontage between Oxford Square and Taylor Square. That’s a combined 14,500 square metres of gross floor area.

The project also includes major commercial office and retail development in the precinct, adding to the heritage sites a stepped-back rooftop extension. This will provide 9200 square metres of commercial space for creative, tech and new businesses, 2300 square metres of retail and a 75-room boutique hotel.

But the presentation showed an artist’s impression of a proposed rooftop bar that was distinctively corporate and lacking in Oxford Street spirit. One member of the audience pointed this out, saying it looked very “straight” and “lacking in diversity”.

Another rightly questioned whether the t0-be tenants, including makeup giant Mecca, restaurant Big Poppa’s and food chain Fishbowl, as well as other high-end street labels, would be in line with the iconic strip’s essence.

The Ashe Morgan representative’s response? “We don’t discriminate. Anyone can apply for tenancy.”

No mention was made of prices, whether existing small businesses could be priced out, and how this would affect their foot traffic – Lord Mayor Clover Moore previously attributed the downfall of Oxford Street to the construction of Westfield shopping centres at either end of the strip.

Small businesses affected 

Construction on the Oxford & Foley project recently halted after previous contractors got locked out of the site. The boarded-up blocks have severely impacted the foot traffic and vibrancy of the strip, compounded with the 2014 lockout laws and the pandemic.

The project was originally slated to be completed by mid-2023, in time for the 2024 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade. After the Ashe Morgan representative said it will be finished by mid-2025, small businesses present that evening questioned if they’d actually be consulted on the timeline.

“With pleasure,” the representative said.

A small business owner replied, “Okay, because I didn’t hear anything from you guys for two years.”

“Construction is not easy,” the representative repeated. “There’s still a bit more suffering to go, but it’s going to be worth it.”

The lord mayor also offered little comfort to the small business owners. She referenced the success of George Street, to which members of the audience called out, “We don’t want Oxford Street to become George Street.”

In her address, Moore continued to recite a familiar spiel about what has already been done – security guards wearing “PrideVis” vests, free Sunday admission to Qtopia, cycleways, and the recently updated rainbow crossings.

A member of the audience told City Hub, “We don’t need all these rainbow crossings.”

“No one can even sit down in Taylor Square. Now they’re talking about setting up chairs during the day then taking them away at night, what’s that all about?”

Ken Holmes from Aussie Boys, who previously described the whole saga as “disastrous”, told City Hub that the whole meeting was “disappointing” but that he also “wasn’t surprised.”

“I’ve been to about 20 of these meetings in my lifetime” he said, “and nothing ever happens.” 

Another member of the audience referenced to City Hub how a court ruled last year that two businesses affected by the construction of the light rail were entitled to damages from Transport NSW, after disruptions along George Street extended beyond the expected timeline.

“If nothing improves, we’ll probably look into that,” they said.

“Any more disruptions and I don’t think we’ll be here anymore.”

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