The Boot Factory and building a large-scale innovation centre in Bondi Junction

Bondi Innovation Alliance’s stated vision is to support Bondi region becoming a world-class innovation hub.

This is a bold long-term ambition which will take years to achieve given where we are today. And it will only ever be possible if we have large spaces dedicated to innovation and startups, which given the scale and transport access required would inevitably have to be in Bondi Junction.

Approval of the Boot Factory Innovation Civic Hall

This brings us to the news that Waverley Council last week approved the creation of an “Innovation Civic Hall” in the Boot Factory next to Waverley Library. The full decision is in the council minutes and also pasted at the bottom of this post.

The Liberal minority on the Council proposed a number of amendments to the motion, essentially seeking further analysis before proceeding, all of which were rejected by the Labor-Green majority. It was a contentious session. If you would like to watch the blow-by-blow then watch the video of the Council meeting (the Boot Factory was discussed 2:08:20 to 2:57:45).

The third proposed amendment was the most interesting:

‘Further investigates whether the ICH is the optimal use of the Boot Factory and adjoining Mill Hill or whether an alternative option would be a better solution, such as seeking 4,000–5,000 square metres in a new building.’

Boot Factory AND large-scale initiatives are needed

From the very outset of discussions of the Boot Factory being made into an innovation space, I have said that it is a great initiative, and also a tiny fraction of what is required to move the needle in driving innovation in the region, considering the building has only 412 sqm of space spread over three floors.

At Bondi Innovation Alliance we fully support the Boot Factory Innovation Civic Hall project, as long as it is well-executed.

We also believe that we need at an absolute minimum a space of 4,000 sqm close to Bondi Junction train station which can bring together entrepreneurs, startups, researchers, centres of excellence, and corporate technology centres so they can collaborate and cross-pollinate, creating a critical mass of talent and initiatives that keep the region’s talent here rather than commuting out every day.

As one reference, Adelaide has somewhat over three times the population of Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs. Adelaide has three dedicated innovation precincts, with the second largest, Lot 14 near the CBD, boasting 18,000 sqm of floorspace, while the largest, Tonsley Innovation District, is spread over 61 hectares.

Possible paths forward

The creation of a large innovation space in the region will not happen overnight. However there are a number of possible paths forward.

  • The Spotlight and Officeworks buildings in Bondi Junction are council-owned and large enough for innovation centres that, if designed and delivered well, could truly catalyse and transform the region. While some level of subsidy would be desired, designed as commercial innovation spaces these could still provide substantial direct revenue to Council.

  • Waverley Council could stipulate for any large new development in Bondi Junction that there is a substantial space for innovation and entrepreneurship.

  • Failing sufficient action by the Council, a property developer with foresight could recognise the immense value an initiative like this would bring to the area and the developer, and work with interested parties to create an innovation precinct, with potentially involvement from state and/or federal governments.

We are pleased that the Boot Factory project has been approved, but see it as at best a small step, with the establishment of one or more large-scale innovation spaces in Bondi Junction absolutely necessary to enable the true economic and social potential of the region, as well as representing a massive opportunity.

We aim to support large-scale innovation space initiatives in the region in whatever way we can, and will keep you posted as there are any noteworthy developments on that journey.

Council motion 15 September 2020

CM/7.3/20.09 Innovation Civic Hall – Proposed Operating Model for the Refurbished Boot Factory

DECISION
That Council:

  1. Notes the completion of the investigation of a Knowledge and Innovation Hub precinct within the Waverley local government area, as defined by the Council resolution in October 2017.
  2. Notes the four-stage process that has been undertaken to complete the investigation including research and community consultation, options analysis, a facilitated workshop with the Council established Steering Committee, and a final business case on the preferred model.
  3. Thanks the Knowledge and Innovation Hub working group participants, including Sarah Martin, Anton Nemme, Liane Rossler and James Zaki, for their contribution through this multi-year project.
  4. Receives and notes the Business Case to Reboot the Boot Factory by Establishing an Innovation Civic Hall prepared by Asset Technologies Pacific in March 2020 (Attachment 1).
  5. Endorses the preferred option of the Innovation Civic Hall (ICH) for the Boot Factory, and the design of fit-out of the building on the basis.
  6. Officers proceed to work on the future operational management model for the ICH, with report to come back to Council on final costings, programming, sponsorship and staffing.
  7. Notes that the operational model should be considered in the context of the operational management model of Bondi Pavilion currently being prepared in order to explore and realise any operational advantages and desirable efficiencies possible.
  8. Further investigates a maker space at Waverley Library, with a report to come back to Council on viability.

Image: wyncliffe

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