As NSW emerges from lockdown, a new regeneration plan could put the spotlight back on Kings Cross

neon kings cross

Source: Kirill Sharkovski/Unplash.

After months under lockdown, the city of Sydney is emerging with what some have called an identity crisis. Some areas are torn between their past and their future, as is the case of Kings Cross, one of the most iconic night-time entertainment hubs in the city. 

The area’s long-standing crisis didn’t only appear due to lockdown measures, but as the cumulative effect of lockout laws and restrictions imposed since 2014 that led to the thinning out of the night-time economy and the reconversion of commercial space into residential units. Low visitor numbers, combined with numerous vacant shops and venues in such a strategic location, suggest that there’s an opportunity to move forward while carrying over some important aspects of Kings Cross’ past history.

As a result, The Cross has been earmarked for a major revitalisation plan. The idea is to strengthen the commercial potential in this iconic area of Sydney by creating a 24-hour economy. A report published by the University of Sydney in collaboration with the Chamber of Commerce and the University of Technology drew attention to the importance that visual markers will play when creating a new image for this neighbourhood.

The new redevelopment plan is a lot more sympathetic to the heritage of the area and the concerns of locals than those that have gone before. In 2018 a controversial plan to redevelop one of the most iconic parts of Kings Cross was withdrawn following staunch opposition from residents. The plan would have meant the demolition of buildings at 18-32 Darlinghurst Road to make way for apartments and retail space.

Whilst locals are aware that regeneration is necessary to bolster the area’s waning economy and avoid urban decay, the general consensus is that the history and charm of what was once Sydney’s bohemian heartland should be restored and celebrated.

Specifically, the upcoming regeneration plan puts lighting and neon signage at the heart of this new vision for Kings Cross, rather than demolition. Part of the proposal suggests encouraging local Kings Cross businesses to install neon signs that would highlight the always-on, safe, and creative character of this area. This is aligned with the 24-hour economy strategy outlined by the New South Wales government in September 2020, which aims to reignite the night-time economy in strategic areas.

James Mercurio, the commercial sales and marketing manager at Geelong-based Custom Neon had this to say:

“The project to revitalise the King Cross precinct is an exciting opportunity for the local community. The addition of neon signage will provide a unique visual spectacle for residents and tourists. This will contribute to safer streets, vibrant parks, and great exposure for local businesses. The proposed plan will ensure that the Cross remains one of Sydney’s most popular locations.”

When asked about the impact of these plans on demand for neon signage across the country, Mercurio stated: “Within the industry, we are witnessing a surge in businesses adopting neon signage to make themselves stand out. They are vibrant, eyecatching, and research has shown, they attract customers. No longer synonymous with strip clubs and seedy bars. LED neon’s are creating a fun family environment, appealing to young an old alike, with savvy-minded business owners realising the potential exposure they provide.”

The role of signage in transforming Kings Cross

The idea of using signage came from seeing the only remaining element of the district’s past identity: the neon Coca-Cola sign dating from the 1950s, a decade that marked the start of the golden age of visual advertising. This inspired a new vision that could take on elements of the past and place them in a new context that would set the tone for Kings Cross’ future. 

Under this plan, the area will no longer be perceived as just a late-night party district, but as a thriving leisure hotspot.

The plan also contemplates transforming Kings Cross into a more liveable destination with the creation of parks, cultural venues, creative workspaces and coworking hubs to increase the neighbourhood’s appeal. Flexible workspaces have become a particularly attractive working model in recent years, with changes to business operations and the rise of remote working meaning businesses and freelancers have become more open to leasing workspace on a membership basis. This form of flexible office space is particularly attractive for those involved in creative fields, such as graphic design, marketing, and advertising. Prime examples of these types of spaces include Example House, a flexible office and event space at 69 Roslyn Street, as well as the number of smaller spaces set to open along Victoria Street as NSW comes out of lockdown. 

Eye-catching signage doesn’t only add a visual element of vibrancy, but it can also play a role in place-making and wayfinding. Improved illumination and wayfinding was highlighted as an important priority in the official Kings Cross revitalisation strategy, since one of main concerns was the lack of adequate lighting in this area.

The plan envisages a makeover to the main gateways to Kings Cross (the train station and William Street), which are currently uninviting and sometimes perceived as unsafe. In addition to helping transform the public perception of this area, neon signage could help create a more coherent image and reinforce the neighbourhood’s unique personality, creating an eye-popping effect that can inject the necessary dose of optimism needed to regenerate this part of Sydney and make The Cross glow again.

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