WorldPride 2023 is intent on reviving Oxford Street as the vibrant heart of Sydney nightlife and the hospitality industry is keen to come to the party.
WorldPride celebrations will coincide with the 45th anniversary of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras and Australia’s 50th Gay Pride Week. Around 1.2 million people are expected to attend the celebrations from 17 February to 5 March 2023.
During the festival, the Mardi Gras Parade will return to Oxford Street after two years at the SCG due to COVID-19.
The Australian Hotels Association’s John Green told News Limited he had been in talks with WorldPride Sydney CEO Kate Wickett about the plans for Oxford Street.
“The strip has been probably one of the most affected during COVID due to the nature of the venues,” he said.
“I think people have identified that it really does need some work, so to be able to rejuvenate the area is vital for the precinct. It’s well overdue for a revamp and I think the plans that have been put to council are really exciting.”
Wickett told the Star Observer “all levels of government have shown us their support and are with us every step of the way” when it comes to reviving the strip.
“All the plans we’re seeing cement Oxford Street’s place as a hub of LGBTQI+ culture and creative communities long into the future,” she said. “Already we’re seeing new businesses open, and old favourite venues getting a beautiful revamp.”
The NSW Government signed as the first major partner for Sydney WorldPride 2023 in early March. The Government’s tourism and major events agency Destination NSW will work side-by-side with Sydney WorldPride to deliver a showstopping world-class event that highlights the city’s diversity, inclusivity, creativity and innovation.
The NSW Government has also commitment of $3.5 million to create Pride Villages during the festival.
Minister for Enterprise, Investment and Trade, Minister for Tourism and Sport and Minister for Western Sydney Stuart Ayres said the Sydney ‘Pride Villages’ would activate Oxford Street in a way that’s never been done before.
“WorldPride 2023 will showcase Sydney’s strengths to a global audience and creating temporary villages in Taylor Square, Crown Street and Riley Street will further enhance the experience,” Ayres said.
“The Oxford St Pride Villages will build on a global event, which celebrates LGBTQIA+ communities through arts, culture, and discussion and truly invites the whole world to feel a part of Sydney’s spirit of diversity and inclusion.”
City of Sydney redevelopment plans
The City of Sydney has also proposed planning rules to unlock redevelopment opportunities, encourage investment, stimulate business and activate streets and laneways along the strip.
It will encourage office and retail premises, entertainment spaces, healthcare services, information and education facilities, hotel accommodation, community facilities and light industry along Oxford Street.
Sydney mayor Clover Moore said it was clear Oxford St’s history needed to be preserved, but a facelift was important.
“We’re breathing new life into the fabulous strip with innovative controls to support growth and diversity, protect heritage and character and promote both day and night-time economies – all while ensuring the development of cultural space, such as new basement bars and space for creatives,” Cr Moore said.
The redevelopment will create about 53,500sq m of space on the roofs and in the basements of existing heritage-listed buildings.
Justin Hemmes predicts roaring 20s boom
Among those eager to be part of the revitalisation of Oxford Street is Merivale’s Justin Hemmes.
Hemmes bought his first piece of real estate in the area in 2014 – The Paddington – and has hinted more acquisitions could be on the table.
“I have a lot of nostalgic, fond memories of Oxford St in its heyday,” he told News Limited. “Since we opened our venues, The Paddington, Fred’s, Charlie Parker’s and The Chicken Shop, we’ve seen first-hand how the area has been returning to a vibrant, village-like feel, with varied and bespoke retail together with great hospitality offerings. We have a lot of faith in Paddington and always look to further invest in the area.”
Hemmes also told The Australian he’s witnessing a “renewed passion” for nightclubbing.
“We’ve been suppressed for so long that we came out stronger than ever, but dancing,” he said. “I have seen more people dance than I have ever seen before.”
Hemmes said he was amazed by how busy his venues were when Australian came out of the first COVID-19 lockdown in early 2020.
“We were running our clubs at more shifts than I’ve ever done in my 30 years of trading,” he said. “Pre-lockdown, you would have a dancefloor and there would be people hanging out and some dancing, but after it, everyone was dancing. It was like this tribal revival of human connection. It actually made me want to invest even more in the industry, because I thought the industry and our human desire to connect over a meal is bulletproof.
“I have never seen anything like it. It feels like our roaring ’20s. This is our time. This is our moment.”