Where to next for Kings Cross?

An artist's impression of a revitalised Kings Cross. Image: Committee for Sydney.

John Moyle explores the Committee for Sydney’s A Vision for Kings Cross report, which sets out ideas for revitalising the once vibrant neighbourhood.

Last week, urban policy think tank the Committee for Sydney released a long anticipated report on possible pathways for the future of Kings Cross, with mixed results.

Like all things to do with the Cross, every point raised is a point of contention, and although the reception may not be unanimously in favour, the report – titled A Vision for Kings Cross – also raises many points on which local residents and businesses can move forward.

“I was hoping that the report was going to be a bit more definitive,” Warren Fahey, historian, writer and local resident said.

“It didn’t say too much that surprised and it didn’t offer any real solutions.”

The report, written with input from UTS, urban design firm RobertsDay and the City of Sydney Council, was in response to the rapid decline of the suburb since the introduction of lockout laws brought about by two booze fuelled killings in the area in 2014.

Identifying the history of Kings Cross and its importance as an international tourism destination, the report has five sections, canvassing the areas’s past and present; a new economic plan; the public realm and place making; transport connectivity; and better governance, respectively.

Stressing that the report is not prescriptive but rather contains suggestions for going forward, the Committee for Sydney stated: “In this report we have put forward a series of recommendations grounded in research and community engagements to get the Cross buzzing again.

“Now it’s up to the state and city governments, as well as the local residents and business community to take up the mantle.”

NSW Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Rob Stokes said: “The proposal contains the kind of provocative ideas that we need to reimagine Sydney post-pandemic.

“East Sydney could be the answer to London’s West End, and I’ll be looking at these ideas more closely.”

One of the ideas the Committee put forward is largely cosmetic and reasonably economical to implement, and that is to use the past to inform the present by activating neon signage, to give the area a unique identity and energise the streetscape.

“My memories of my first visit to Kings Cross were certainly coloured by dazzling neon lights,” Warren Fahey said.

Activating neon signage to energise the streetscape is just one of the ideas presented in the Committee for Sydney report. Image: Committee for Sydney.

One suggestion is for the City of Sydney to offer grants to individual shopkeepers to implement creative neon ideas while giving commissions to artists to create larger installations.

Another suggestion in the report, which has proven to be instantly controversial, is to create a plaza area under the Coke sign at the top of William Street. This would involve reducing traffic lanes across Darlinghurst Road over the William Street tunnel, increasing pedestrian space.

Andrew Woodhouse, President of the Potts Point and Kings Cross Heritage Conservation Society, has reservations about this proposal.

“Darlinghurst Road is [an] arterial road and is owned by the state, and it runs fire, ambulance and police emergency vehicles plus carries all the spoil from Garden Island,” Mr Woodhouse said.

“Traffic also gets people around and every car hold four potential shoppers.”

Artist’s impression of a revamped pedestrian space on Darlinghurst Road above the William Street tunnel. Image: Committee for Sydney.

To collate the input from residents, businesses and focus group meetings, the Committee for Sydney worked with the UTS Institute for Public Policy and Governance.

“We received responses from 357 residents, business operators and Kings Cross stakeholders on what they liked and what they didn’t like about the Cross in 2020,” a Committee for Sydney spokesperson said.

“This reflected a 49 per cent response rate from the 750 stakeholders invited to respond, which reflects the high degree of passion and investment in the future of the area.”

One issue on which most people contacted for this article agree on is the reactivation of the Metro Theatre as a live venue.

Member for Sydney in the NSW Parliament, Alex Greenwich said: “I’m confident the NSW Government and the City of Sydney will work collaboratively to support Kings Cross, including the exciting opportunities to activate the Metro-Minerva Theatre.”

Re-opening the Metro-Minerva Theatre (pictured) is supported by Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich. File photo.

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore sees the arts driving the future economy of the area.

“The City supports the revitalisation of the Cross … and revamping the Minerva Theatre would be a valuable addition to the existing theatres, which includes the SBW Stables, the Old Fitz, the Kings Cross and Hayes Theatres,” Ms Moore said.

Brandon Martignago, Chairman, Potts Point Partnership sees the Metro-Minerva as the lynchpin to creating a vibrant community.

“The report talks about [utilising that space] as a 1,000 seat theatre and that is also the best solution for the community,” Mr Martignago said.

Warren Fahey said: “Without a major venue like the Metro it’s pretty difficult to make the area a major theatre area.”

Mr Martignago is also the owner of Dulcie’s small bar and is aware that for the moment there is a lot of goodwill attached to the report that can help bring all parties together.

“One of the things I like about the report is that it talks about a 24 hour ecology rather than just a 24 hour economy,” Brandon Martignago said.

A Committee for Sydney spokesperson said: “It is clear from our research that all parties need to be singing from the same songbook if we are going to see substantial change in the Cross.”

Brandon Martignago agreed.

“That requires everyone sitting down at the table and talking,” he said.

“There’s only so much that the City, the State and the Committee can do.”