Dinner with Retail CEOs

(6pm 25 October 2011, Sydney Town Hall, Lord Mayor's Reception Room)

I would like firstly to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land, and I pay my respects to the Elders, both past and present.

Thank you all for coming, and welcome to this evening's dinner.

This is an opportunity for us to have an informal conversation about how we can best work together in developing a truly flourishing retail sector for central Sydney.

Retail plays a key role in the economic health of our City - and City of Sydney has been undertaking research into the direct and indirect contribution the sector makes to Sydney's prosperity. We know that retail employs about 14% of the central Sydney workforce, and that it also plays an important role in attracting global businesses and their employees, residential development and international visitors.

A vibrant retail sector is also vital to creating a liveable city, a place that people want to reside in, to work in, and to visit - again and again. It is an integral part of what makes Sydney 'Sydney' - it helps to define the essence of our city.

In recent times, retail has been facing new challenges, and it has had to adapt to these, particularly the rapid growth of an online shopping environment, with extraordinary alacrity. The City of Sydney is very much committed to working closely with you through initiatives such as our Retail Advisory Panel, and the Chairman of the Panel, Don Grover, is here tonight.

This year the Panel has focused on improving coordination of retail activity in the Christmas period. They've worked closely with the City's own staff and have produced a special Christmas website - a kind of one-stop shop for everything on offer during the season.

That will be expanded on next year, along with a new focus on how Sydney's unique retail offering can be better marketed to consumers - especially in the face of what can only be growing competition from online retailing.

Meanwhile, the Panel has provided the City with useful advice on our own engagement with retailers and we are trying to ensure that all retailers - big and small - are aware of the opportunities available to them through Sydney's calendar of events.

The City's CEO and Andrea Beattie who leads our economic development unit and Grace Bowe, whose job is dedicated entirely to working with the retail sector, are here as well as Kate Deacon, our Marketing Manager. I know they are happy to chat on a more informal basis throughout the evening - as am I.

So to get us started I am going to spend a few minutes giving you an update on our work to date and then I look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas.

Transforming Sydney

Green Global Connected

Before I talk about our work with the retail sector - I want to mention that this work fits into our overarching plan for the City of Sydney. After the most comprehensive consultation we had ever held at the City of Sydney we developed this plan. It is called Sustainable Sydney 2030 and can be encapsulated in three words - green, global and connected.

  • Green in every sense, trees but also an environmental leader.
  • Global in our economic outlook and engagement with the world, but also in our inclusiveness and embracing of different viewpoints and lifestyles.
  • And connected, by better public transport and telecommunications but also socially and culturally connected.

Vision for Retail in Sydney

In 2010 I was approached about the City finding a way to work together to improve retail in Sydney. The Retail Advisory Panel was formed as a result and I invited Don Grover to chair this group.

The Panel met for the first time at the end of 2010 and four times this year.

We have worked with the Panel to develop our vision for retail in Sydney:

To be recognised as Australia's premier retail destination with

      • A globally competitive city centre
      • Villages that service their local communities and offer an authentic experience for visitors

We know that to create the right retail destination, we have to look at all parts of the city and how it's working.

We've identified some priority projects and we have them underway:

Light Rail - Not just a transport solution

The first and most important project is to transform inner city transport. We believe Light Rail can transform George St and improve transport reliability and capacity.

We believe light Rail will lead to a George Street revival.

  • Major new pedestrian spaces alongside the QVB, Mid City Centre, Myer, Louis Vuitton & Apple store.
  • No bus or traffic noise - Opportunity to re-imagine street frontages and balcony levels.

Trams

  • Trams every 2-3 minutes.
  • Stops at QVB, Strand and Martin Place.
  • Central to Circular Quay in 15 minutes.
  • Speeds of 20km/hr in pedestrianised areas, 40km/hr elsewhere.
  • Some bus routes redesigned to integrate easily with light rail, others unchanged.

Traffic & loading

  • Driveways to remain open (Hilton, Myer, Westfield, Mid-City Centre, Swissotel, etc).
  • Cross-streets to remain open (King St, Market St, Bridge St).
  • Some one-way streets become two-way.
  • New cab ranks established.

Directional signage

Our research identified the need for co-ordinated and clear signage information to encourage people to walk around the city and confidently get to their destinations.

The City has acted, and we are currently assessing tenders from consultant teams for the development of a new directional signage system for the city.

The Wayfinding system will deliver clear and consistent information to direct people to their desired destinations.

Supporting the Visitor Economy

We recognise the importance of visitors to Sydney. Our research has shown that the way we currently deliver information to them before their visit and after they've arrived in Sydney is very complex and could be better coordinated.

The City has a role to play, as does the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority and Destination NSW.

I can say that our three organisations, having identified the problem are working together to come up with an "ideal model" for delivering these visitor information services.

Delivering Events

The City plays a major role in developing and delivering great events in Sydney:

  • New Years Eve;
  • Christmas;
  • Chinese New Year;
  • Art and About; and
  • as a major sponsor of the Festival of Sydney.

All these events are visitor attractions.

Finegrain Program

We know that we need to focus on supporting the fine grain, small, distinct businesses and underutilised places in our city. They can offer for low cost rents as well as small places where the unusual and quirky things can happen.

The City offers a grant program that encourages activities in these areas - we have awarded grants totalling $245k over 3 years to 10 businesses.

Since August 2008, we have seen a 40% increase in laneway businesses and 47 small bars open.

We also know that there's more to do and we have identified where we should focus next.

Creating a Great Experience

We think that a great experience for shoppers distinguishes in-store from online and one place over another.

It is what will set Sydney apart from other shopping centres and encourage people to visit our city centre and Villages rather than buying online.

We know that we can all play a part to achieve a great experience.

Here at the City, we can focus on creating high quality public spaces for the centre of Sydney and in our Villages. For the centre of Sydney, the improvements to George Street will go along way to delivering a better place for pedestrians.

We can't create a great experience on our own. It will take investment in infrastructure, particularly better public transport to the city and throughout it. This is where the NSW Government has a role to play.

You as retailers can also play your part - in making sure that you are offering the right mix and quality of products and services in your stores.

The fourth ingredient that we can see is to make sure that our city is a lively and active place. We have a good reputation for delivering big events. We need to make sure we also have small scale, interesting events happening all over the city. We can share in making this happen.

Building Capacity

We know that a strong retail sector offers great diversity - not only diversity in products and services, but diversity in the size of businesses.

At the City, we need to always encourage the start-up businesses and innovators.

We will continue to work with the NSW Government who also run programs for small business.

Engagement

The Retail Advisory Panel has identified the need to coordinate communication between businesses and from you collectively to your consumers.

They have taken this on as a key project for 2012 and have formed a sub-committee tasked with coming up with some solutions.

As a first step, the City has this year launched our e-news to our database which now includes more than 3000 retailers. I have also hosted two Talking Shop forums this year. Our aim is to share information; for example to connect businesses with some of the key event producers in our city.

Removing Barriers

In talking with businesses it is clear that regulation is seen as a barrier for you. Some areas where we can improve our processes have been identified and we've started to work on them.

We know that the development application process can be complex, particularly for small business.

We've just started some "DA 101" programs to help de-mystify the process.

We'll continue to look for more ways to improve.

OPEN

The City has embarked on an extensive consultation program to help us develop our Night Time City Policy.

Our Consultation

You can see that we've talked with everyone.

Some of you have participated in our Roundtables and Workshops.

We also ran an online forum and street interviews to talk with people we don't usually reach.
What we're Getting Right

There's a lot that's right about Sydney - some of the highlights: We run major events well; The finegrain program and our small bars and dining are popular; The City is also regarded well for our consultation with the community.

What Can We Improve

There's much we can improve and we need to work together to do this.

  • Improved public transport
  • Diversity & activities for all ages
  • Late night food / dining / shopping options
  • Creative lighting
  • More public toilets
  • Changing our drinking culture
  • Reducing red tape
  • Collaboration & partnerships

The City has compiled all our research and consultation findings in a discussion paper which will be released soon.

What Sort of Retail Do People Want?

Although we didn't focus on retail, I though we should share what we learnt…

  • People want later shopping, particularly fashion, grocers, chemists & niche retail.
  • People would like to see a shift in opening hours for retailers 11am-8pm.
  • They'd like cafes and dining that complement retail options.
  • More outdoor night markets.
  • Pop-up storefronts.

What's Next

Our discussion paper goes live on 31 October.

We'll also share at this time all our research and consultation findings.

I'd like to hear your thoughts on what the City is doing

Are we on the right track?

How can we better work together?

What else is important that we've not identified?