Renew Newcastle boss Christopher Saunders hopes the organisation’s efforts to revive Newcastle Station are back on track after finally securing a liquor licence for the venue this week.
Mr Saunders said on Thursday that Renew had been operating with one hand tied behind its back since The Station, as it is now branded, reopened with a well attended launch party two months ago.
He admitted the organisation had received internal criticism from the state government’s Revitalising Newcastle program, which is also its landlord, about a lack of activity at the site.
But he was now hopeful the liquor licence, which was delayed after objections from some nearby residents, would provide the group with revenue to stage concerts, performances, movie nights and other activities.
The next major event on The Station’s calendar is this weekend’s Newcastle 500 Supercars race, where Renew will host a trackside viewing area, bar and barbecue run by New Lambton Football Club.
The venue, which has christened itself The Station-Masters Bar for the weekend, will be inside the race precinct and open from Friday to Sunday.
Vehicles in the Touring Car Masters series have set up their pit garages on the station’s platform.
Renew Newcastle, a grassroots, non-profit cultural organisation with a celebrated record of reviving vacant commercial spaces on a shoestring budget, seemed a strange bedfellow for the government’s pro-development revitalising program when it was announced as the winning tenderer for The Station in December.
Two months into Renew’s 18-month lease, the venue has largely failed to live up to expectations it would be a lively entertainment space.
Mr Saunders said this was due to an absence of public funding for Renew, which had once received up to $150,000 a year in local and state government grants.
It had received some sponsorship from Hunter Water in September, without which it would have folded.
“For an organisation that’s been going for 10 years, a non-profit that is providing a civic service for the whole community, let’s face it, this is the first year we have not had any funding,” he said.
“Why does a small, under-funded, under-resourced organisation face this expectation that we will deliver this major project for the city for nothing?”
The lack of funding has clearly been a source of tension between Renew and its government masters, and Mr Saunders has been keen to protect his organisation’s reputation during what has been a difficult two months.
He posted a message on Facebook last week which read: “Just clocked up my 200th volunteer hour at The Station. That’s 200 hours on top of my 36 hour week.
“This whole venture has been made possible because people are giving their time to make this work for Newcastle.
“The Station can be the city’s playground but we are all going to need to play nicely together and pitch in to make it work. Hope to see you down here sometime soon.”
On Saturday, he posted another missive showing an empty Hunter Street Mall at 5.55pm and a crowd at The Station at 6.05pm with the words: “I remember a couple of years back when Renew had the Mall activated.
“I wonder if The Station will prove to be a more sustainable activation.”
Mr Saunders said on Thursday that liquor sales were always intended to be The Station’s main revenue stream, but Liquor and Gaming NSW delays in granting the licence seemingly contradicted the government’s desire for the venue to help revive the city’s nightlife.
Public submissions on the application closed in August, and the licence was granted on Wednesday.
It restricts The Station to staging live, amplified outdoor music to 12 times a month, but Mr Saunders said this should be enough to make the venue viable.
Newcastle City Council approved a development application in September for the “temporary activation” of the former rail terminus, including a cafe, technology laboratory, rehearsal spaces, concerts, outdoor movies, food trucks and markets.
The application drew 20 objections from residents, including one from Newcastle East Residents Group, concerned about noise and anti-social behaviour.
Mr Saunders said he hoped this weekend’s car race would help kick-start revenue for more activities at The Station.
It will host a Big Al’s pop-up restaurant on the platform on Friday, Saturday and Sunday next week and a Renew Newcastle 10th birthday celebration the following Sunday, December 9.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.