Watt Street businesses in the dark

INFORMATION about a grand plan to transform Watt Street into an art attraction has been sparse, say many local business employees.
Nanjing Night Net

The City Evolutions project will start in early November, despite Watt Street businesses not yet being fully briefed on Newcastle City Council’s plans.

Earlier this year, the council called on local artists and creative teams to register their interest in working on the $300,000 project.

The project aims to encourage people to spend time in the inner city and celebrate one of Newcastle’s oldest streets.

Artists will work on large visual light installations for the Watt Street buildings, as well as holograms, virtual realities through phone apps and sculptures.

Artists were asked to develop applications to suit five buildings earmarked for the project: the telephone exchange, cafe Sprocket, The Great Northern Hotel and the Union Steam Ship Company building – all on Watt Street – and the Lock-Up Cultural Centre nearby on Hunter Street.

About 100 expressions of interest were registered, but only 18 applications were received by the deadline last week.

Although the council documentation identifies the buildings to be involved in the project, many employees working at the sites told The Star they were unaware of the project.

In one case, one of the proposed sites was later deemed an unsafe working space for the artists.

A spokeswoman from the iconic pub The Great Northern said the pub was more than happy to get behind the idea and were even willing to participate in a trial run if funding was provided.

However, in March the pub was told the project would not go ahead in the hotel because the upstairs area was closed to the public and consequently artists would not be able to work in the space.

Still, The Great Northern received many calls from artists and were confused as to their long-term involvement in the project.

In a similar case, the Lock-Up Cultural Centre received many calls from artists, although a volunteer said she could not comment if the building was involved because she had not heard about it.

Newcastle City Council project manager Paul Tibbles said the buildings identified in the document that was supplied to the artists would stay the same and would only change as submissions were reviewed by a panel.

He said it was a ‘misconception’ that the pub would not be used and some sections of the building could be approved.

Mr Tibbles said the council had contacted all building owners in Watt Street and was under the impression they were excited for the project to begin.

Newcastle’s oldest street, Watt Street where the city evolutions project is expected to start construction later in the year, Orlando and Ross from the Great Northern hotel

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