A City of Sydney initiative to improve the facade of shops on Oxford Street has had lacklustre results, despite the program’s previous success in the Redfern area. After 12 months of operation, only one business has submitted an application.
The Shopfront Improvement Matching Grant assists store owners to renovate their shop fronts to make them more attractive to the public. A grant of up to $6000 can be provided for improvements, but only if the owner or operator of the premises matches the grant amount in cash.
“Roller shutters and unsightly shopfronts in commercial village centres create a lifeless, unsightly and hostile environment,” the City of Sydney website states.
“Roller shutters contribute to a general perception that an area is unsafe and may have little to offer the local community or visitor.”
The area has been battling economic woe for the past few years, with competition from two nearby Westfields, cut-price rents, and a high number of commercial vacancies plaguing the strip.
The Shopfront Matching Grant, popular in the UK, was originally set up by the City of Sydney in the Redfern area in 2010, where over the course of two years, 23 grants for facade improvement were approved.
At the start of 2013 similar program was set up for the section of Oxford Street between College Street and South Dowling Street. However, only one application (from clothing store Daly Male) has been received since.
“In anything with government there’s always red tape, we’ve been finding it reasonably smooth,” said Mark Stuart, manager of Daly Male. “Everyone got the same information [about the grants] we did…rather than being doom and gloom we’re trying to do something about it.”
The council business paper approving the grant for Daly Male noted the poor results in Oxford Street thus far, acknowledging that the program “has yet to gain momentum.”
“It is interesting to note that the majority of successful applicants approached the City when a deadline was imposed on the [Redfern] program,” a council spokesperson said.
“The program in Redfern ran for three years before the fruits of its success started to appear. There is no reason why the same pattern will not emerge in Oxford Street.”
Another issue facing council is the fact that the section of Oxford Street past Taylor Square lies in the Woollahra council area.
“The City is also working with Woollahra Council on ways to make Oxford Street even more dynamic as a destination,” a City of Sydney spokesperson said.
“They are consulting with several stakeholders including Sydney Buses with a view to revitalising Oxford Street.”