Create, Innovate Gosford City: from an idea to opening up shop

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Create, Innovate Gosford City set up in 2010 to rejuvenate Gosford's central business district. It acts as intermediary between property owners of vacant shops and creative practitioners seeking to occupy the space at low or no rent in order to start up a new enterprise.

This case study of their first year was written for people starting up an empty space project in their community - to assist with understanding the development process and resourcing required - by Michelle Brooks, from the University of Technology, Sydney, in November 2010.

The first Create, Innovate shop, Honeydew Gallery, opened in April 2011.

Introduction

FlierCreate, Innovate Gosford City is a not-for-profit organisation developed to assist in the rejuvenation of Gosford City Business District (CBD).

It acts as an intermediary between property owners of currently vacant shops or outlets and creative people seeking to occupy the space at low or no rent in order to start up a creative enterprise. 

I am Michelle Brooks, a social research student at the University of Technology, Sydney. From August to November 2010, I researched and wrote this booklet for publication on the Empty Spaces website about the start-up of this 'empty space' project from its inception in 2009 until October 2010 when the Steering Committee received news that the program had received funding from Arts NSW and Gosford City Council to reuse empty properties in the city centre for creative enterprise hubs. 

This case study aims to both document the first phase of Create, Innovate Gosford City for the project's Steering Committee and, through describing the development of this local initiative, assist other community cultural leaders who are looking to start up their own empty space-style program.

Method

My research for the case study included in-depth interviews with key people involved in developing the initiative and other stakeholders. They were:

All those interviewed gave their consent in writing.

Other research tasks included:

                      - Members of the Create, Innovate Gosford City Steering Committee

                      - Chris Holstein, Councillor, Gosford City Council

                      - Lisa Andersen, Manager, and Katrina Fox, Community Manager, Empty Spaces Project, UTS

I recommend that Create, Innovate Gosford City and the Empty Spaces Project undertake further research in early 2012 to:

Gosford CBD: A profile

Gosford is the largest city in the NSW Central Coast region with a local government area population of 166,626 (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2010). Gosford is located 76km from Sydney and 91km from Newcastle and has a recent history as a commuter city with those two cities as the major employment destination for many Gosford residents. According to Gosford City Council 37 per cent of residents in employment commute from the region for work. (2001, 4).

A key challenge identified by the local government for the long-term sustainability of the city - and the Central Coast region as a whole - is to develop more local jobs in a range of occupations. And particularly,

youth unemployment remains a major concern as limited local employment and career opportunities for this group result in young people either staying on the Coast and remaining unemployed or working casually, or moving to Sydney to find work. (Gosford City Council 2001 'Employment and Community')

The commuter-city demographic and the lack of local employment have had an impact on use of the local CBD.

In addition, Gosford CBD is centre of social service delivery for the Central Coast and this has given the CBD something of a 'welfare reputation' and an image problem. As Mel Law from Youth Connections, which provides services to local young people, explained:

I think maybe Gosford has been built up too much on the provision of these services»the Methadone Clinic, the Department of Housing, Mission Australia, Salvation Army, Centrelink» all of these are in the heart of Gosford, so there's a really strong culture of charity and services for the most disadvantaged in our community. All of the infrastructure in the city is built on these services.

Safety concerns are also an issue for use of the CBD. In a survey undertaken for the Gosford City Council Community Plan in 2001 safety was the most important issue for residents, specifically perceptions of crime, vandalism and issues of personal and pedestrian safety (Gosford City Council 2001, 11).

During my research a number of local people also mentioned safety and vandalism as an issue of concern.

The same resident survey also found that "the lack of night life and entertainment options in the Gosford Central Business District" was also a concern for local residents.

Culture in the CBD

Local people generally describe Sydney as the place where they access and experience cultural activities. And while Gosford hosts a number of cultural organisations, including the Conservatorium of Music, Gosford Regional Gallery, Youth in Performing Arts (YIPA) and the Central Coast Art Society, there is little visible cultural presence in the CBD. 

According to local creative entrepreneur and winner of Tropfest New York, Jason van Genderen, to undertake creative ventures in a regional area like Gosford:

You probably have to try two to three times as hard as you would in a metro space to get those sorts of things to happen, but then, if they become successful, they're probably two to three times more rewarding as well. The risk equals the reward.

Also, to him, an initiative like Create, Innovate Gosford City provides a unique opportunity for "understanding the difference of the dynamics and of the population base here, as opposed to an inner city area".

20 years of 'emptying out'

Gosford CBD has undergone a 20-plus-year process of change of use and an ongoing loss of 'vibrancy that led to the need for Create, Innovate Gosford City. 

In 1987, the opening of the Erina Fair shopping complex - the largest shopping centre on the Central Coast - relocated retail and services including major grocery outlets, chain brands, financial services and professional services to 6km out of the CBD.

In 1995, Tuggerah Westfield - 19km from the CBD - opened for business. Local Real Estate Agent, Rob Wilcox, who has worked in the area for 27 years, described the impact on the Gosford CBD retail as making it, "a very difficult market, simply because Gosford»has had to reinvent itself a couple of times".

He described the recent history of retail in the Central Coast as seeing the development of smaller, decentralised shopping centres in outlying areas, such as the Green Point shopping complex, located 12km from the Gosford CBD. This has

had a dramatic effect on retail in Gosford [because] people don't have to come in to Gosford to go in to the shops. The only people that come into Gosford to shop are those who work here and, obviously, those who live here. (Rob Wilcox, Real Estate Agent)

The result of 20 years of 'emptying out' was quantified in an April 2010 Audit of Gosford CBD, undertaken by local real estate agent Peter Turnbull from Citicoast Realty, which found 83 empty shopfronts in Mann Street, the main street in Gosford CBD, and surrounding streets.

The photographs below, which I took during my research, illustrate this 'vacant' and 'To Let' character of the CBD.

A vacant bank of empty shops on Donnison Street, Gosford Inside an empty shop on Mann Street, Gosford
A vacant bank of empty shops on Donnison Street, Gosford Inside an empty shop on Mann Street, Gosford
An empty store front in Gosford CBD An empty store front in Gosford CBD
An empty store front in Gosford CBD An empty store front in Gosford CBD

Gosford CBD today

During my reasearch, a picture emerged of a city centre that lacked 'buzz' and vitality. A CBD where activity, according Jason van Genderen, is

purely transactional...it's not people being there because they want to be there, it is because they are just there for work, and they're all just going out and getting their lunch and then going back.

Most major activity in the CBD occurs during Monday to Friday office hours from people working in the CBD or people who are accessing the social services including Centrelink, Jobs Centre Australia, Age and Disability Services, Workcover NSW, Department of Community Services and Regional Youth Support Service.

When I visited the CBD on a Sunday afternoon between 1pm and 3pm, I found very few signs of human activity with only a small number of people on the street and only one food outlet (next to the railway station) open for business.

In comparison, during a mid-week lunchtime, cafes and other eateries were open and busy. Kibble Park (parallel to Mann Street) is also busy with young families and other people and the bus stations were crowded with older residents.

However after 5pm, Mann Street and surrounding streets quickly emptied out and the main activity was young people 'hanging out' and socialising in Kibble Park and some young mothers and their children.

Midweek scenes in Gosford CBD There are few signs of human activity on a Sunday in Gosford CBD.
Midweek scenes in Gosford CBD.

There are few signs of human activity on a Sunday
in Gosford CBD.

The Gosford Challenge: rethinking and revitalising

In late 2005 the need to re-think and revitalise Gosford was the subject of the Gosford Challenge, which aimed to:

develop and grow Gosford as a world-class waterfront regional city, within greater Sydney»The process for delivering this change is The Gosford Challenge, a comprehensive renewal program involving multiple agencies and skills, under the joint leadership of NSW Lands and the Gosford City Council. (The Gosford Challenge, 2010)

Create, Innovate Gosford City is viewed by the organisers as a 'meanwhile' project; something that happens in the interim before the development plans are implemented. For Jason van Genderen it's

a double positive because for now it can be used as something like this while it's waiting and then we know if it gets taken over, it's a piece of development that is going ahead and adding something else to the city» if the art spaces find they have this ready audience, and they get used and celebrated and spoken about, I'm sure they will find their own commercial way of existing.

Gosford Business Improvement District

The Gosford Business Improvement District (GBID) is a not-for-profit organisation seeking to improve local conditions of businesses, including attracting more people into the city centre and improving the quality of visitor experiences.

Since they first developed in Canada in the 1960s, Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) have become something of an international movement - particularly in North America and the UK - for managing town centre revitalisation strategies. (See Department of Business Innovation Skills 2010; Williams 2010).

A BID is a public/private partnership under which local businesses come together to pay a levy to fund a Business Improvement Manager and other local programs to bring about commercial (and other) revitalisation to an area.

According to UKBIDs' The National BIDs Advisory Service:

A Business Improvement District is a partnership between a local authority and the local business community to develop projects and services that will benefit the trading environment within the boundary of a clearly defined commercial area. (UKBIDs' website 2010)

The UK's Department for Business, Innovation & Skills 2010 paper, Healthy High Street? A healthcheck for high streets and town centres, calls for clear leadership and vision in improving and managing central public and commercial spaces. The paper details more than 100 BID programs in the UK as "a proven way of facilitating and funding good town management".

Gosford Business Improvement District was established in 2008 "to make Gosford a safer, cleaner, more commercially vibrant, attractive city" (Gosford Business Improvement District 2010).

In 2010 GBID was case-studied by NSW Industry and Investment as an example of a Business Improvement District working in NSW.

GBID collects and manages the funds raised by the Gosford City Centre Improvement Special Rate Levy, which all commercial property owners in Gosford are required to pay. During the 2008/2009 financial year, this levy generated an income of around $400,000.

In 2008 the position of Manager was created to oversee a revitalisation strategy and Deborah Lowndes was appointed to this position. 

The creation of this role was a critical step for the development of Create, Innovate Gosford City because, as Deborah explains it, she had in her mind an empty space initiative from the outset.

According to Deborah, arts and creative industries became a focus for revitalisation strategies in Gosford because of their success as catalysts for the 'recreation' of other cities.

So I think once you get those little clusters, then you start to get the people, then you start to get the place, and people will really know Gosford for what it is  (Deborah Lowndes interview).

GBID were also aware of the successful model of Renew Newcastle developing nearby. In 2009 Deborah attended a Gosford City Rotary Dinner where Marcus Westbury, founder of Renew Newcastle, spoke, and in early 2010 she attended a presentation on creative enterprise hubs projects by Kim Spinks from Arts NSW.

Create, Innovate Gosford Steering Committee

In 2010, Mel Laws, Partnership Broker, Community for Youth Connections Gosford, had, like Deborah Lowndes, also begun thinking about empty space-style reuses of space by young Gosford entrepreneurs after reading about the success of international and Australian projects.

She met with Deborah Lowndes to discuss the idea and, according to Deborah:

It was just really opportune that Mel came to me, and I thought "yes, finally someone whom I can drive it together with", and it was then just a natural case where everyone came together who needed to be involved»the stars were aligned. 

Deborah and Mel set up a project Steering Committee made up of local government, business, and service and cultural organisations which held its first meeting in April 2010.

The Steering Committee members are:

It was agreed that GBID would co-ordinate the activities of Create, Innovate Gosford City via the Steering Committee.

The Committee members work in four areas:

             Infrastructure - business model, project outcomes, insurances, IT services, general processes, administration

            Engagement strategy

            Engaging target markets - including Aboriginal artist co-operative

            Application processes - expressions of interest and artist business plans

            Engagement strategy

            Property useage zoning

            License agreement

            Consultation workshops

            Project marketing

            Community/business marketing - including workshops

            Internet marketing - website, social media

            Public Relations

            Sponsorships

And the Committee members have defined the main stakeholders for the project as:

Objectives

The main aim of Create, Innovate Gosford City is "to fill the empty spaces, revitalise the city and to bring back activity into Gosford CBD" (Draft Business Model 2010, 1).

The primary focus of the initiative is on the rejuvenation of Gosford and the Draft Business Model anticipates:

this project will also attract visitors and residents to the city to see the unique products these [cultural] industries are offering, therefore increasing foot traffic, consumer spending and retail mix in the Gosford City Centre.

The objectives are to:

The emphasis is on rejuvenating the city centre. Unlike Renew Newcastle, which was driven by local cultural leaders, the Gosford project has had a strong business focus and Deborah Lowndes explained this as:

At the end of the day, I keep coming back to this, it's a business, it's a model of a business that is going to end up benefitting the creative industries and benefitting the city.

Mel Laws says the initiative provides an opportunity to build social capital within a city where "that's just not there. I believe that it will drive the shift to a much more sustainable and connected place."

While the project focuses on the rejuvenation of the CBD, Mel feels it also offers the opportunity to re-imagine elements in the city and incorporate its history.  She describes how the Committee has tried to work out a way that Create, Innovate Gosford City can:

sit alongside [what exists] and be its own flavour » rather than trying to solve a social problem by replacing it with something different, if you accept it's there and take advantage of it within what you're trying to do with creative industry - so that [the project] doesn't undermine, or clash with that strong culture that is already there.

Structure

The administrative body acts as a broker and liaison point between local creative enterprises and artists and property owners and real estate agents of vacant shops.

The initiative aims to simplify the process of temporarily occupying unused space waiting to be redeveloped or leased more permanently for commercial uses.

It will do this through employing a 30-day rollover license agreement between property owners and artists using the legal systems and license agreements developed by Renew Newcastle and produced by Arts Law Centre, and Renew Newcastle's participation agreement.

Although the project relies heavily on volunteer labour and the spaces being provided for free, associated costs include insurances, website development and management and employing a part-time (two or three days per week) project co-ordinator.

Create, Innovate Gosford City has identified three distinct stages of development of the project:

According to Project Manager Deborah Lowndes, in November 2010 the project is transitioning from the second to the third stage.

Funding

The biggest issue for us has been obtaining funding. The amount of time that I have personally spent doing funding submissions, and chasing funding»that has been our biggest challenge (Deborah Lowndes interview).

The Steering Committee submitted three separate project funding applications during 2010 to:

For the month preceding confirmation of funding there was a sense at Steering Committee meetings that the project was at a standstill. Properties had been sourced and three initial artist projects had been identified but the Committee was not willing to move forward without funding to cover employment of a part-time co-ordinator for the project and other running costs.

In November 2010 the project received the news it had been funded by Arts NSW for $15,000 and by Gosford City Council for $20,000. The funds will cover costs for a first year of the project, including employing a part-time project coordinator.

Gosford Council - as recommended by the Mayor and the Director of City Services - is providing an additional $5,000 for the development of a business model for the project.

According to Deborah Lowndes, the funding confirmation from Arts NSW preceded subsequent research - not yet publicly available - undertaken by Lois Randall for Arts NSW about the Central Coast region, which recommended increasing funding to this area of NSW.

The Steering Committee had kept in regular contact with Arts NSW throughout 2010, which Deborah Lowndes felt was quite important in achieving the positive funding outcome. Arts NSW's support was conditional upon the local government co-funding the initiative.

Deborah feels that some of the difficulties the Committee had in getting the project funded relate to it being about 'creative industry' development:

Does it fall under arts or does it fall under regional development? »I'm hitting three:

  • NSW Investment and Industry - to encourage business development and grow;
  • Gosford City Council - falling under their Masterplan and the revitalisation of Gosford City; and
  • Arts NSW - to foster the creative industries.

Building relationships with property owners and managers

One of Create, Innovate Gosford's early successes was a relationship with local real estate agents, which developed from GBID's existing relationships with property managers in the CBD.

At the beginning of the project, local real estate agent Peter Turnbull from Citicoast Realty volunteered to conduct an audit of vacant retail properties (Audit of Gosford CBD 2010).

An audit of Gosford CBD showing over 80 empty shopfronts

 

Deborah Lowndes said:

It's easier for us to talk to one real estate agent who manages four or five different owners, as opposed to us trying to build relationships with four or five different owners. If we build the trust of agents, then we are saving ourselves a whole lot of work.

Real estate agents being involved has meant easier facilitation of negotiating and using properties.

Real Estate Agent Rob Wilcox, who manages almost 90 per cent of retail properties in the CBD, is involved because he is:

trying to seek a new tenant for the landlord. That's the overarching thing; I put my landlord hat on and say, 'What can I do to get somebody into that shop?' And that was the rationale.

For Rob, the appeal lies in the temporary or 'meanwhile' nature of the project. Empty shopfronts that look unappealing can be used by creative enterprise to show the potential of a space, and this is a point of advantage.

Of concern for real estate agents were:

However, having reviewed the Renew Newcastle license agreement template, Rob Wilcox found it a reasonable document that was "flexible enough" for property owners.

His advice to other real estate agents being invited to get involved in an empty space initiative:

Consider it on its merits and look at the benefit it might bring. If you have a number of vacant shops, instead of having a vacancy, have somebody in there and make it look not disused. There's nothing worse than having a vacant shop.

Attachment(click to download)
Gosford_empty_spaces_audit.pdf6.88 MB

Engaging with the business sector

For its final stage of start-up development Create, Innovate Gosford City will focus on developing engagement with the local business and creative communities, including running a series of workshops.

Relationships with the business community - including raising issues of concern for local business owners - will be managed through Gosford Business Improvement District Members and the Chamber of Commerce.  

An initial consultation occurred through GBID Members and the Committee is committed to ongoing dialogue and, as Mel Laws said the Steering Committee is:

very respectful of the fact that we don't push two shops together; that there won't be direct competition between any of the existing businesses and these ones.

Mapping local creative industry

Engagement with the local creative community will follow a different strategy.

Creative entrepreneur Jason van Genderen describes the arts scene on the Central Coast as tending to be siloed with "lots of pocketed communities that are very rich and ripe in the arts but spread over a large geo-demographic base". He believes that the message of Create, Innovate Gosford City will spread organically.

The Create, Innovate Gosford City team are working with GBID to develop the local Artisan Market which will run once a month alongside the successful Growers Markets held in Kibble Park in the Gosford CBD.

The Committee will use the market to promote the Create, Innovate initiative and encourage market stallholders to fill in an expression of interest for reusing an empty shopfront.

The program has also researched a creative industry database with more than 380 entries, which was developed through searching the Yellow Pages and amalgamating existing databases supplied by:

It is planned to manage, renew and update the database through the project's website.

The database has taken a broad view on local creative industry using the following categories:

There is potential for Create, Innovate Gosford City to draw together the arts and creative community in Gosford. This has already occurred with the development of a database, which makes the creative community more accessible. It will also happen by creating a 'vibe' and making local culture more visible in Gosford's CBD.  

Youth vocational training

Create, Innovate Gosford City is planning that a TAFE Certificate 2 in Construction and Outfitting qualification will be run through the initiative.

Through the involvement of Youth Connections on the Steering Committee - which facilitates youth training programs - this program will 'skill-up' young people while they work on outfitting and updating the empty retail properties.

Trainees will work under the supervision of a trained professional in getting the shops ready for use.

The Committee sees this as being part of an integrated community response to youth unemployment and disengagement in Gosford.

The proposed training program will also provide the project with free labour and with other resources, such as paint, which are also covered under the Certificate program.

A consideration for the program will be about fitting the timelines of empty space reuse - and 30-day rollover licenses - with the timelines of vocational education.

Future challenges

The first year of Create, Innovate Gosford City has seen the following key goals achieved:

Having consolidated its planning and developed a structure, Create, Innovate Gosford City is ready to become a functioning public program.

Challenges that lie ahead include:

I think the old adage 'build it, and they will come' has been the big downfall in concepts like this» it would work in a metropolitan area such as Sydney, because there's a lot more spaces where there is more organic traffic that will pull into these sorts of things and probably there's a bit more infrastructure set up where people are looking out for those sorts of things in the community. Locally, because it's quite a new concept, I think it will need a bit of promotion to actually get off the ground and get rolling.

Conclusion

In April 2010 Deborah Lowndes and Mel Laws had their first meeting to discuss an idea for the creative reuse of empty spaces in Gosford CBD and by November 2010 the project had a structure and had received funding; with the first artist shop to be launched in early 2011.

This case study of Create, Innovate Gosford City documents the first eight months of that project's development and also highlights the importance of a local and place-focused approach in developing any empty space-style initiative.

While receiving guidance from the nearby, successful Renew Newcastle project, Create, Innovate Gosford City quickly developed its own character through incorporating local needs and strengths in its planning, including local cultural assets in its structure and developing an aim that puts issues of concern for the Gosford community at its heart.

References

Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2010. National Regional Profile: Gosford (C) Local Government Area, 22 November.

Create, Innovate Gosford Steering Committee. 2010. Budget for April.

Create, Innovate Gosford Steering Committee. 2010. Draft Business Model.

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (UK). 2010. Healthy High Street? A healthcheck for high streets and town centres.

Gosford City Council. 2001. Employment and Community

Gosford City Council. 2001. Community Plan 2001: Most important local issues.

Gosford City Council. 2001. Document Gallery

Gosford Business Improvement District. 2010. BID Information.

NSW Industry and Investment. 2009. Planning for financial sustainability.

The Gosford Challenge. 2010. History of the Gosford Challenge.

Turnbull, Peter. 2010. Audit of Gosford CBD: April 2010.

UKBIDs. 2010. What is a Business Improvement District?

Williams, Peter. 2010. Business Improvement Districts are un-ashamedly business led, in The Means, January 16.

Acknowledgements

This case study of Create, Innovate Gosford City would not have been possible without the support and guidance of some key people.

Firstly, to Lisa Andersen and Katrina Fox from the Empty Spaces Project at UTS Shopfront Community Program, thank you for providing me with a sounding board for my ideas and helping me to turn interviews, documents, meetings and observations into words.

Thanks also to my academic supervisor Damien Spry, Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, University of Technology, Sydney who was an invaluable guide for my research process.

I would like to thank everyone from Gosford who helped my research and shared their valuable insights with me, particularly Deborah Lowndes and Mel Laws who welcomed me so kindly to Gosford each fortnight and who answered all my emails and phone calls (asking for 'just one more thing') and did it all with a smile. Your time and support has meant so much to me.

And finally to mum, for lending me her car for the journeys to Gosford (and for many other reasons!).