From the 1989 earthquake and subsequent rebuilding effort, to the closure of BHP’s steelworks and the retrenchment of thousands of workers, Novocastrians get through change and tough times by banding together.
Look at a picture of Hunter Street mall 10 years ago and you will see the portrait of a city centre that had fallen on hard times. In 2008 Marcus Westbury returned to Newcastle after living away and counted more than 150 vacant shopfronts in Newcastle’s CBD, half of all the available commercial space.
The city was flatlining, and the businesses still trading in the city cast a lonely shadow. Marcus started Renew Newcastle in 2009 and it was his belief that the city could recover that jumpstarted Newcastle’s CBD back to life.
Novocastrians got behind their town, and jumped at the chance to visit the some 70 new retail and creative spaces made possible through Renew’s vision. For the first time in decades locals were optimistic about the CBD’s future.
It’s a different environment in Newcastle today compared with 10 years ago. For starters, we have a council which is getting things done. Remember how removing the fallen boulder at South Newcastle took years of debate before any action? Locals are voting with their feet, showing they want to showcase their backyard with events like the Newcastle 500. And the State Government has kept its promise by investing in Newcastle’s future.
Revitalisation is happening before our eyes. The University of Newcastle has shown faith in the CBD, and its $90 million NeW Space campus brings 3000 students to the city centre. This number is set to double, with the university planning to establish a Honeysuckle campus following the rezoning of the heavy rail corridor.
Along with new law courts, the Civic precinct is a hive of activity, attracting entrepreneurs to open cafes, bars and takeaways. This activity and optimism is catching the eye of investors. About $2 billion investment has flown into the city since 2014.
This boom is thanks to the great optimism and willingness of Novocastrians to support their city. Yet, change can be painful, and some locals who have enjoyed the benefits of Newcastle’s renaissance are now feeling the effects of the biggest inner city construction effort since the earthquake.
Most of the light rail route is now under construction. Although businesses are still open and pedestrian access has been maintained, some people have been deterred from coming to the city, partly due to incorrect assertions that it’s inaccessible. While I won’t pretend that driving in Newcastle hasn’t been affected by construction, there is still a plenty of parking, including 21 off street parking stations.
A significant amount of effort has gone into making the CBD more accessible. Two-hour parking spaces have been created close to shops, direct bus routes have been implemented, and taking a train to Newcastle interchange can also connect you with a frequent loop bus service of the CBD.
Revitalising Newcastle is also working with council to deliver its ‘park and ride’ bus from McDonald Jones Stadium, which can get you in and out of Newcastle for free on weekdays. And over the past 12 months we have delivered a range of events, both large and small, which collectively have drawn tens of thousands of people out of their homes and offices and into the city centre, right on the door step of businesses.
Businesses need Novocastrians to band together like they always have. Come to the city and visit your favourite café, restaurant or shop. While the construction will last just a matter of months, it’s during this time businesses need locals’ support the most.
This is a watershed moment in Newcastle’s history, and it’s important to remember how far we’ve come, and how close we are to reaching this great city’s potential.
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