3 May 2023

Is Wagga ready to stay up late and support a night-time economy?

| Chris Roe
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Cr Dan Hayes

Wagga City Councillor Dan Hayes wants to fire up the night-time economy conversation. Photo: Chris Roe.

It’s not a new idea, but Wagga City Councillor Dan Hayes is keen to fire up the conversation about nurturing a vibrant, safe and sustainable night-time economy for Wagga.

His social media post on Facebook this week triggered a lively debate, offering recommendations for improving the nightlife both during the week and on the weekend.

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“I’m bringing a Notice of Motion to the next council meeting about the night-time economy,” Cr Hayes explained.

“It’s been discussed for a long time and often gets included amongst a whole raft of items whenever we talk about the CBD.

“I think what has been missing is a particular focus on it.”

Wagga tree lit up

Wagga is blessed with beautiful outdoor spaces but the CBD is usually empty after dark. Photo: Supplied.

Comments ranged from improving safety to closing off a portion of the street, to food trucks and buskers, and even the installation of an amphitheatre.

“Close off the Myer block and make it a pedestrian friendly mall, filled with buskers and outdoor cafes and ice cream stands,” wrote Scott Chambers.

“An amphitheatre for debates and opinions or singing groups. Small open air plays. Lit up with party lights at night.”

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Several commenters pointed to Wollongong’s revitalisation, while David Allan looked to similar-sized cities nearby.

“All the arcades in Wagga’s CBD are massively underutilised and should be thriving – a la what places like Bendigo, Ballarat, even Albury have been doing for years while Wagga drags its feet,” he wrote.

Cr Hayes said it was great to see people thinking outside the box and bringing ideas to the table.

“There are so many great ideas and people are interested in not just making a more vibrant night-time economy, but even after 3 pm when most of the cafes are closed,” he said.

“If you try to have a meeting somewhere that’s not a pub after three o’clock it becomes difficult.”

Cr Hayes said that while it was a complex issue without a single solution, a good start would be understanding and capitalising on what the city did well.

“For example, Wagga’s events have been fantastic over the last few years and they present great opportunities,” he said, explaining that one-off moments should be part of a broader approach.

“We’ve got the Festival of W coming up, which has a great range of events. One of the most popular ones is the ice skating and you’ve got all these people down there in the park, but then what do you do after that?

“The other night, on a weeknight, the Civic Theatre was full and then 500 people went home.

“Whenever we talk about night-time economy, people ultimately fall into talking about events but we need to look at all these other things like planning laws or transport, safety, lighting.”

Civic Theatre

Wagga’s Civic Theatre draws strong crowds but there are few options for after the show. Photo: Supplied.

Wagga City Council recently put out a contract to develop a CBD masterplan and appoint consultants to design a cohesive strategy for the city centre.

One of the CBD’s problems highlighted by a 2021 ”Placescore” study was the “over-scaled and disconnected” main street with its long blocks and wide streets that can feel “empty and uninviting”.

“We treat the whole main street, which is quite long, almost the same, but maybe we need to start looking at the CBD in segments,” said Cr Hayes.

“For example, we’ve got a wonderful opportunity for an arts precinct with the conservatorium and the ambulance station (Arts Hub), connecting around to the National Glass Gallery and the Civic Theatre.

“We’ve got this wonderful main street and wonderful parks, yet we don’t necessarily promote the utilisation of them or support people generating their own entertainment and fun.

“So there’s a lot of work to do over a long period of time. There’s no quick fix with this.”

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