The districts – which are common in New York and London, but not in Sydney – are formed by private property owners and businesses within a certain area, and require members to pay a levy that funds services and events within its boundaries.
Sydney’s first and only business improvement district – the New Sydney Waterfront Company, a pilot spanning Barangaroo, Pyrmont and Blackwattle Bay – is being helmed by Jace Tyrrell, who formerly led the equivalent initiative in London’s West End.
What is a business improvement district?
A business improvement district (BID) is a defined area within a certain area and businesses contribute a levy to fund agreed projects within the district’s boundaries. They have historically funded services and activities that are perceived as being inadequately performed by government. The model emerged in North America in the 1950s, and there are about 3000 individual districts in the world, largely concentrated in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.
Stokes said the districts had been “hugely successful” in activating public spaces in other global cities.
For example, Bryant Park in New York was transformed from a place of crime to a thriving community center throughout the 1980s, partly due to funding from a corporation composed of several nearby businesses.
“Wynyard Park could become Sydney’s answer to New York City’s Bryant Park, a real example of how government can work with the business community to transform an under-utilized space into a buzzing destination for workers, residents and visitors,” Stokes said.
A two-day pop-up activation at Wynyard Station in Sydney last week sought to emulate that, bringing together five food trucks, seating spaces, lawn games, table tennis and archery to enliven the space and draw workers outdoors. Nearby businesses including EY and Brookfield Properties helped organize the event, named Wynside Out.
Selina Short, the managing director of EY’s Oceania real estate, hospitality and construction business, said government, the private sector and the community needed to keep working together to build cities back better after COVID.
“As we wean ourselves off government funding we need to look at innovative models such as [business improvement districts] which are commonplace in overseas markets. We need a place-making strategy that is more intentional, more sustainable, more inclusive, ”she said.
“Wynyard Park, a long-overlooked pocket of green closely connected to transportation in the heart of our CBD, is a prime example.”
Stokes last month told a conference that he had asked the government and director Ed Steane from the Greater Cities Commission to develop a white paper on the legislation required for implementation.
“As we wean ourselves off government funding we need to look at innovative models … which are commonplace in overseas markets.”
Selina Short, the managing director of EY’s Oceania real estate, hospitality and construction business
Carol Mills, an industry professor of public policy at UTS, said the legislative framework would be important in setting broad objectives and principles of business improvement districts in NSW.
“Criticism of some [business improvement districts] overseas was that they were very business-oriented and did not take enough consideration of the impact on smaller businesses or local residents, ”she said.
“Something we’re focused on in Sydney is that we improve liveability and not just profitability of an area. Businesses need to be at the table because they are the financial contributors, but they are sophisticated enough to realize that engaging with the community, understanding the strengths of the existing area, are fundamental to success. ”
Mills said she expected districts in Sydney to maintain the authenticity of their given areas, and ensure they remain distinctive places tied to their local history.
In turn, small businesses could expect to participate more actively in governance processes and gain information about business trends and demands they would not have access to on their own.
Paul Nicolaou from advocacy group Business Sydney said the New Sydney Waterfront Company would serve as a blueprint for developing similar small pockets across the CBD.
“Led by the business community and backed by state and local government, the [business improvement district] model will bring all stakeholders together with a common purpose and plan to bring the city to life 24/7 and encourage locals and tourists into our great city. ”
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