Kings Cross could soon be receiving a makeover worthy of your favourite chick flick montages – think Mia Thermopolis in The Princess Diaries level – thanks to the City of Sydney's backing of a proposal to reinvigorate the precinct as a hub for arts, culture and nightlife.
However, rehabilitating the so-called 'Golden Mile' may take more than just superficial upgrades. For many Sydneysiders, King's Cross still exists as the once-violent home of the "king hit", lined with cheap backpacker hostels and late-night strip clubs. That reputation was further entrenched when Sydney's lockout laws were lifted everywhere except King's Cross, where the restrictions remained due to the area being deemed at "high risk" of alcohol-fuelled violence, despite a steep decline in hospitality businesses.
After six years of trading regulations, nightspots outside of Kings Cross welcomed the lifting of the lockouts earlier this year, but that celebration was short-lived. Beginning in mid-March, Sydney's shutdown in response to the global health crisis began to wreak unprecedented havoc on all of Sydney's neighbourhoods, but those heavily reliant on the hospitality, entertainment and the arts sectors were most severely impacted. For a suburb with an already shaky nighttime economy, like Kings Cross, the events of recent weeks could prove the fatal blow. However, think tank the Committee for Sydney is determined to give the precinct a new lease on life.
The Committee for Sydney's proposal, the Night-Time Precinct Vision for Kings Cross Project, has been backed by the City of Sydney with a grant of $40,000 to fund the development of a plan which would see the reinvention of Kings Cross through a range of measures – including reopening of the Minerva Theatre on Orwell Street, revamping the train station, and creating more and safer opportunities for late-night transport.
Jess Scully, deputy lord mayor of the City of Sydney, has high hopes for the future of King's Cross. Refurbishing the Minerva Theatre is one opportunity for the precinct to reassert itself as a centre for the arts, Scully says, though King's Cross's challenge might have more to do with its problematic image crisis, rather than a lack of cultural offerings. With the wealth of theatres already operating in the area – including KXT, the Old Fitz, the Darlinghurst Theatre Company's Eternity Playhouse and the Stables, home of the Griffin Theatre Company – King's Cross already has all the substance to be considered a vital hub in Sydney's cultural scene. The hurdle will be in enabling the area to shed its reputation as a once rowdy night-time precinct gone to seed, and reimagining it in the minds of Sydneysiders as a lively, culturally rich destination in its own right.
Scully says that while the Committee for Sydney's plan will reinvigorate the area by giving Kings Cross a new identity as a cultural hub, it's up to the businesses on the ground to do the bulk of the legwork and deliver the reality of the offering. For King's Cross, and for what it represents to the broader city, the Night-Time Precinct Vision for Kings Cross Project is a "recovery vision", which is expected to be finalised and launched in June 2021. While the Committee develops its plan, the City of Sydney is working on widening pedestrian walkways on Macleay Street, and expanding green spaces by creating more rain gardens where water can be collected.
In the wake of Covid-19 lockdown, the night-time, entertainment and hospitality industries "have been the hardest hit, and they may take the longest time to recover", according to Scully. Now more than ever, the Committee's vision for Sydney is a rallying show of faith in one of Sydney's most storied and fascinating districts. And while a new theatre, station and public infrastructure will help, what the Cross really needs is for its story to be retold.