Four years after purchasing the site, the City of Sydney has endorsed a plan to turn the old T2 building at Taylor Square into a bike hub.
The building at 1-5 Flinders Street formerly housed a 24-hour nightclub, which was shut down by council in 2008. Since then, the building has seen some temporary use as a studio, but has largely remained vacant.
The project scope approved on Monday is for “an accessible, safe and active bike and community hub” that “will preserve and activate the heritage building”. The outline includes a ground-floor café, retail, bike hire, community and studio space and a rooftop terrace which “could be used for informal meetings and low key activities associated with the bike hub”.
The site cost $7.14 million to purchase in 2010 and City News understands the project is estimated to cost a further $7.6 million.
Lord Mayor Clover Moore said the number of people riding bikes in the LGA had more than doubled since 2010. The bike hub would “move the focus away alcohol-related activities” at Taylor Square.
“The building’s position at the intersection of the Bourke Street Cycleway, the soon to be built Campbell Street Cycleway and Oxford Street…makes it ideal for bike-related activities,” Cr Moore said.
But Liberal councillor Christine Forster, a vocal opponent of the city’s bike lanes, said the plan for a cycling hub is misguided.
“This is not the best use of this very iconic building, which is after all located in the spiritual heart of the LGBTI community,” she said.
“They’re effectively asking ratepayers to subsidise a café.”
Cr Forster said the council has no contingency plan if the business fails, as did Deus Cafe, “the exact same type of operation”. The bike shop and café was located a few dozen metres down Bourke Street but closed after a short period.
Instead, Cr Forster wants council to turn the former T2 building into a gay and lesbian museum and exhibition space. Her motion to pursue that option was defeated at council on Monday.
The Lord Mayor told City News such a museum should be run by the community, not by politicians, otherwise it would be subject to political interference or “nervous bureaucrats”.
“Imagine a conservative council trying to pressure the curator into toning down or removing an exhibition they thought offensive,” she said.
Cr Moore said philanthropy, fundraising and sponsorship were better funding models, as conducted by other LGTBI museums around the world.
Sydney Mardi Gras and the City worked to establish a pop-up museum in 2013. The T2 building was offered but Mardi Gras declined.
Cr Forster said that’s because it lacks the necessary resources.
“[The museum] wouldn’t be a council thing, it would just be council-funded, because nobody else has the funds to put up to do it,” she said.
“The one thing that the experience with the pop-up museum in 2013 made clear is that such a museum needs street frontage, and this building would have offered the absolutely ideal location.”
Both the Lord Mayor and independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich accused City Liberals of playing politics with the issue.
“This debate is being driven by major parties desperately trying to distract people from the fact that they have worked against granting the LGBTI community the basic human right of full equality,” Cr Moore said.
Mr Greenwich argued there is no point pursuing uncosted policies the community has not even asked for.
“When even the Liberal Party starts using the LGBTI community for grandstanding, I guess it’s a weird sign of how far we’ve come,” he said.