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Setting the pace

26 December 2009 | Posted in: Media

AFTER years of depression and desperation about Newcastle’s decay, one of the biggest stories of 2009 was an ambitious but simple plan to bring life back to the city.

Young and creative people have helped make the Renew Newcastle project the signature move to get the city thinking positive again.

The project has made news around Australia and the world, which makes Renew founder Marcus Westbury one of the city’s top 2009 newsmakers.

Since February, Renew has helped about 40 fashion and craft stores, galleries, a food co-operative and other small enterprises to fill vacant mall shops.

Many of the properties belong to developer GPT and are on short, cheap leases. The company planned a massive redevelopment of the former Hunter Street Mall but put the project on ice in February amid financial crises.

Some of the worst premises now look so good that fully commercial retailers have returned to the city’s abandoned shopping strip.

By year’s end, Westbury had approached hundreds more city property owners to join the project.

“In times of global recession anything that can get 30 or more new enterprises up and running without throwing money at them, virtually overnight, is apparently something a lot of people want to take a look at,” Westbury said.

From The Newcastle Herald’s Year in Review.