Council cashing in on newly hip Wollongong

The lane behind IPAC is now buzzing at night thanks to Wollongong's latest cafes, bars and restaurants. Pictures: ANDY ZAKELI

The lane behind IPAC is now buzzing at night thanks to Wollongong's latest cafes, bars and restaurants. Pictures: ANDY ZAKELI

Even a few years ago, Wollongong's late-night options were limited to noisy pubs or pulsating nightclubs.

No more; now home to dozens of small bars, cafes and late-trading restaurants, the city is gradually embracing the idea of an evening economy; a process Wollongong City Council hopes will be sped up and supported by its new cultural plan.

Of the suite of documents - also including the cultural and live music action plans - the evening economy plan will most shake up how Wollongong is viewed as a city.

New eateries, bars keep CBD aglow after dark

It reveals just 19 per cent of city centre assaults in 2012-13 occurred between 5pm and midnight - a statistic the council hopes will counteract images of a dingy or dangerous city.

"Things happening after dark shape the image and liveability of a city," the council's economic development manager Mark Grimson said.

''It's becoming like Melbourne and Sydney. The culture is changing, people want to be in the city at night.''

''It's becoming like Melbourne and Sydney. The culture is changing, people want to be in the city at night.''

"We're seeing real change here, diversity in what's offered. It's exciting to see."

The Australian Night Time Economy report, released last year, valued the national evening economy at $92 billion in 2011, a figure Mr Grimson said would be much higher now. The council's evening economy plan offers a raft of proposals to spruce up the CBD between 5pm and midnight, including encouraging retailers and venues like galleries to stay open later, and providing better parking options in the city.

Other ideas include extending the free Gong Shuttle, a southern suburbs night bus, and further encouraging small bars and outdoor dining.

"The city is becoming more cosmopolitan, which will increase with new residential development," Mr Grimson said, citing the Mercury's report last Saturday that $1 billion in development would pour into the CBD in coming years.

An influx of more than 20 small bars and cafes in the last two years has reshaped ideas of late night socialising in the CBD. Whiskey bar Howlin Wolf is a newer player, but among the most diverse in its offerings, with art exhibitions, blues bands, movie nights and table-top board games. Bar owner Manny Mavridis said moves towards late night trade would boost Wollongong's profile.

"It's becoming like Melbourne and Sydney. The culture is changing, people want to be in the city at night," he said.

"There is more variety in Wollongong now, more options and things to do."

GPT development manager Steven Turner agreed, saying Wollongong's culture was shifting to mirror big cities.

"You will start to draw parallels to great streets like Lygon Street in Melbourne or Darling Street in Balmain - streets people can just go to and find something interesting," he said.

"People will want to move through a few different places in a night, to do a whole journey."

Key recommendations

• A night bus for the southern suburbs

• Greater activation of existing venues (Wollongong Art Gallery, IPAC, Museum)

• More public toilet options, particularly along migration routes

• Public street lighting to indicate paths of travel

• More small scale licensed venues

• A safe overnight car parking station

• Extended operation of the Gong Shuttle bus hours

• A blanket DA for street trading in Crown Street Mall

• Develop a street activity policy to encourage increased activation of the mall

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