The $44m plan to revive Sydney’s Haymarket into a food and cultural hotspot

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Sydney’s Chinatown and emerging Thai Town would be transformed with neon lights, outdoor dining and shopfronts filled with traditional foods under a plan to celebrate the city’s diverse Asian diaspora and accelerate the evolution of Haymarket into a vibrant dining and entertainment hotspot.

In the latest attempt to revive the tired area, the City of Sydney has revealed a $44 million plan to enhance public spaces and make it easier for businesses to celebrate their Asian heritage, including on Chinatown’s traditional heart of Dixon Street, by creating a “precinct of lights” in the city’s core.

The plans suggest Campbell Street in Haymarket, near the Capitol Theatre, get expanded outdoor dining areas and decorative lighting to highlight its status as the city’s Thai Town. Credit: City of Sydney

City of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore said the changes would recognise the shifting character of Haymarket – which increasingly features a mix of Chinese, Thai and Korean retailers – and of the southern end of the CBD beyond Chinatown’s established borders of Dixon and Sussex streets.

Moore said it was time for a new, overarching plan for Haymarket, which has battled to rebound from years of light rail construction, pandemic restrictions and competition from nearby Darling Square.

“By collaborating closely with residents and businesses in the area we will bring together this unique community to create a world-class destination, economic and cultural precinct,” Moore said.

The council’s draft “revitalisation” strategy was informed by feedback from 1150 residents, business owners and community members last year. It covers an area stretching from Liverpool Street in the north to Central Station, and takes in Chinatown, Haymarket, Darling Square and Belmore Park.

Under the proposal, which councillors are yet to endorse, businesses along Dixon Street would have access to grants and smoother development application processes to upgrade buildings, install neon signs and display food preparation in shopfront windows as a “form of theatre and street interest”.

The plans include upgrades to the city’s burgeoning Thai Town on Campbell Street, which has a high concentration of Thai restaurants and grocery stores, and Belmore Park opposite Central Station.

They suggest a shared zone on Campbell Street outside the Capitol Theatre with outdoor dining areas and decorative lights.

The council is also identifying buildings of significance to the Chinese community for possible heritage listing, and it wants to support more events and festivals that celebrate Asian culture following the success of the Neon Playground street festival and Lunar New Year celebrations.

The council plans to fund improvements to public spaces, such as Harbour Street, to lure back visitors.Credit: City of Sydney

Haymarket Chamber of Commerce president Vincent Lim said the proposal was an “excellent blueprint for the much sought-after revitalisation of this historically and culturally rich precinct”.

Moore said the council had allocated $44 million in its long-term financial plan to fund public domain works, including more trees, seats, lighting and public art in Haymarket.

City architect and design director Bridget Smyth said consultation for the plans had shown retailers and communities wanted to use neon lights “as a kind of cultural expression” to define the area.

“People feel super excited about Chinatown reading like a different precinct in the city through the use of dynamic, creative lighting … so the thinking is a lot of the public art would be expressed through light.”

Dixon Street business owners would receive incentives to overhaul their buildings and shopfront windows.Credit: Dean Sewell

Banna Property Group chief executive Brad Chan, the mastermind behind Neon Playground, welcomed the plan to appoint a “Haymarket coordinator” who would liaise between the council, businesses and landowners. He hoped the changes would attract more investment to the precinct.

Graham Jahn, who is the council’s director of city planning, development and transport, said the draft plan reflected the shifting character of the inner city due to a surge in residents of Thai, Korean, Indonesian and Malaysian backgrounds, alongside the established Chinese population.

“Haymarket is developing a uniqueness among world Chinatowns because very few examples of Chinatowns elsewhere, such as in the United States, Canada or the United Kingdom, have co-located Thai towns or Korea towns because normally, they claim their own suburb, and they’re far-flung.”

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