The old Katoomba library site could have a new lease on life as Blue Mountains Economic Enterprise has recommended a “Smart Work Hub” be installed there.
Expressions of Interest [EOI] to turn the 300 square metres of space in the Katoomba Civic Centre hall into a flexible workspace will now start, after Blue Mountains City Council gave the EOI process the go ahead at its October 17 meeting for their property.
Ann Niddrie BMEE’s creative industries cluster manager and BMEE chief Bernie Fehon said it had the ability to transform the socio-economy of the Mountains and help with isolation issues of those working from home. Mr Fehon has already started scouting out companies already working in this area, to gauge their interest.
“It’s got potential for real community building,” Mr Fehon said, adding WOTSO and Hub Australia were two of the groups he had spoken to.
According to a report submitted to the council 59 per cent of Mountains workers [20,531 people] are forced to commute outside the region. A smart work hub could reduce commuting, traffic congestion and pressure on transport infrastructure.
“It follows international trends using distributed smart work hubs to bring work closer to where people live and to stimulate and support local economies,” the report said.
Under the initial proposal it was suggested it could be a “satellite uni hub” as well as an “e-health hub” – maximising digital technologies to enable remote monitoring of chronic health conditions and support tele-health services, as well as offering a tertiary facility with high quality face-to-face interaction, based on the Future Campus model by the University of New England. It was also recommended as a research hub for the Blue Mountains World Heritage Research Institute.
Mr Fehon said it could easily become a “launch pad” area for Western Sydney University, even if in the short term an e-health facility and satellite uni hub was unlikely.
The initial proposal also included a restaurant, but Mr Fehon said with Upbeet and the Little Paris Cafe nearby that was no longer necessary. Lounges, meeting spaces, a games room with ping pong tables, a green screen, “phone book rooms”, yoga classes and a mezzanine level could be part of the facility, depending on who bid for the space, Mr Fehon said.
Mr Fehon said the space could easily accommodate 40 workers.
BMEE took council staff and councillors on tours of other work spaces this year to give them an idea of what the space could look like. A council report has suggested offering two years rent-free to off-set initial start-up costs to a commercial tenant, which could be as high as $500,000.
Last year the hall was used for just over 400 hours, generating an income for council of about $11,000. Community groups were welcome to submit an application to run the co-worker space. A commercial lease could run for up to 10 years.
Ms Niddrie said she would like to see something “edgy and welcoming” in the space, much like the town of Katoomba.
Mayor Mark Greenhill said: “Repurposing the Katoomba Community Hall and Town Centre Arcade precinct into a Smart Work hub would be an innovative approach to activating a public space and stimulating the local economy”.
Thanking BMEE for their advocacy on the project, the mayor added “the way we access employment and education is changing. We need to be adaptive to contemporary patterns of work and study. Providing a flexible work environment in a town centre could offer a creative solution to the changing employment and education needs of our community.”