2 November 2021

Desolate Manuka street raises questions about Canberra's 'outdoor activation' trial

| Max O'Driscoll
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Franklin Street, Manuka

Franklin Street, Manuka, this afternoon. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The ACT Government’s new Outdoor Activation project has come under fire in Manuka, with opponents claiming the road closures are impacting business and bits of fake grass are doing little to attract new diners to the area.

As part of the plan, one side of Franklin Street has been completely closed to traffic, with tables and chairs set up on the road.

“It looks terrible,” said Manuka Newsagency owner Matt Nobbs. “I’ve got pictures morning, lunch and night of the last three days, and nothing has changed.

“At 2 o’clock … the handful of people who were out there on the road, they moved back to normal places of seating because it was too hot.

“It’s an inconvenience to all our customers and there was no correspondence with the locals. There’s been no promotion. They’ve simply rolled out fake grass and stuck chairs and tables on it.”

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A two-week pilot to test outdoor dining in Manuka started on 29 October to help the hospitality industry and improve the area’s nightlife.

One side of Franklin Street has been completely closed as part of the ACT Government’s new Outdoor Activation Taskforce. It was introduced by Minister for Business and Better Regulation Tara Cheyne as “a staged, thoughtful process” which would “welcome business’s ideas”.

However, Mr Nobbs believes many of the impacted businesses were never consulted and suggested that even some of the businesses who would stand to benefit from the street dining option were opposed to the street’s closure.

Opponents say they have been left frustrated but somewhat vindicated after the “street dining” appeared to underperform over the weekend, with customers instead opting to use regular dining options.

After observing patronage over the weekend, Mr Nobbs believes the common-sense approach would be to give up on street dining in Franklin Street.

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However, the manager of the Caph’s Restaurant & Bar in Franklin Street, Elijah Notaras, welcomed the initiative.

“People love it,” he said. “It’s opened up the street a little bit more and added something new to Manuka which it has been missing for a while.”

Mr Notaras believes that wind in the late evening was the most significant issue last weekend, and the photos taken by Mr Nobbs at 7 pm reflected customers responding to that despite enjoying the outdoor dining option.

Outdoor space at Manuka

Outdoor space at Manuka: the wind had an impact on outdoor dining. Photo: Matt Nobbs.

An ACT Government spokesperson said they remained committed to supporting innovative ideas that would aid the economic recovery for local businesses, but they would assess the results in Manuka after two weeks of the pilot.

“The pilot aims to provide more opportunities for businesses to operate in a COVID-safe way and extended outdoor dining for Canberra’s bars, cafes, and restaurants,” the spokesperson said.

“All hospitality businesses on the street are participating.

“The ACT Government will monitor the pilot … to understand how similar outdoor activations could be rolled out across the ACT to help make the city more vibrant.”

Mr Nobbs said he and other local business owners were collaborating on a proposal that would make use of the footpaths and still add a significant amount of space for outdoor dining but would not require one side of the street to be closed.

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Mark Francis11:46 am 04 Nov 21

An interesting thing is how this concept might be integrated with the new hotel under construction across the road. With some foresight, a well thought out entrance-exit linkage point to a pedestrianized Franklin Street could be a real winner. Consultation and goodwill might make it happen, and the “dead” side of Franklin Street could finally be revitalized.

Guy Blackburn9:08 am 03 Nov 21

We live locally and have used this extensively in the last weekend to support local businesses. It’s a great imitative designed to increase capacity for the local business who have been impacted by COVID. In due course increasing its utility towards a Salamanca market style arrangement on weekends with music etc might entice people back to Manuka which at the moment is in dire need of an injection of funding to bring it back to former glory. One side (where the old cinema used to be) is an absolute eyesore. On the other, many businesses have done nothing to update their offerings to customers. In many they have the same paint scheme they had in the 1970s and the graffiti on the top of the Manuka building has been there for years. Those businesses complaining about new initiative to entice people back to a dead Franklin street might want to think about how they can contribute to solving the problem instead of just wanting it to stay the was it has been and the area continues to struggle to keep businesses afloat and Kingston now drawing all the crowd. This is a great initiative and I congratulate those who are contributing to it. Supporting local small business is a two way street. A contemporary offering where the street looks vibrant and enticing rather than a run down image of a former 70s self might help people to want to go and support these local businesses more. Be part of the solution. Not part of the problem. If you hate change you’re going to hate irrelevance even more. Let’s work together to bring Manuka back as a place people want to go, not just pass through because it lacks style and attraction.

If the ACT government consulted, genuinely consulted, with the real people of the ACT, not just party cadres, panel members and selected focus groups, it would come up with some useful ‘outdoor activation’ ideas. What would make the city more vibrant is to bring back various things the people want but the ACT Government has banned. Like fireworks. Like the Birdman Rally. Like Floriade in Commonwealth Park. Like family friendly events with live music. Remember fun? Having a city vibe is not just about hipsters, grunge and organic coffee.

tuggeranongist9:39 am 03 Nov 21

The famously hip and grungy streets of Manuka, beloved of this city’s socialist cadres!

Floriade was going back to Commonwealth Park this year, it was only the COVID relateed issues that stopped it.
And when was the last birdman rally in Canberra? Like 1992….. hardly yesterday lol. Not against it as an idea, but it is a long time since it was a ‘thing’ in Canberra.

wasn’t the intent for Floriade to go back to Commonwealth park this year – indeed most of the bulbs weren’t . And just how long ago was the last Birdman rally in Canberra – early 90s wasn’t it.

Finagen_Freeman5:17 pm 02 Nov 21

Don’t knock it. Our Public Servants have Executives who live there.

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