Sandy Verschoor is a forward thinker who embraces change and eschews cookie cutter solutions where the status quo is never challenged.
It is why she gets excited about trackless trams, driverless vehicles, smart technology and our local screen industry, and it’s also why she’s standing for Adelaide Lord Mayor in November’s council election.
“I’ve put my energy, passion, resources and time into creating the city I want to live in for a very long time and I want it to be a future for my (three) kids,” she says.
“We need to continue to grow business in the city so our kids have a future here.”
After 18 months as Deputy Lord Mayor, Verschoor is confident she has what it takes for the Adelaide City Council’s top job and she has a long list of things she’d like to achieve.
Among her priorities are to grow business, strengthen the city’s communities and create a “dynamic culture so it’s a city you want to live in”.
Having worked as a general manager for the council for three years and served as an elected member since December 2015, Verschoor believes she is in a unique position to bring the council and the administration closer together to achieve greater efficiency and streamline services.
“There are four things that are almost criteria that should guide everything we do – environmental sustainability, future technology, lowering costs and being transparent, and creativity and innovation,” she says.
Her leadership skills have been honed through a string of high-profile roles including CEO of Adelaide Fringe, Adelaide Festival and Windmill Theatre, and she runs her own consultancy, yet she still finds herself defending her business acumen.
“I’m fascinated when people don’t associate the arts with business, the arts are one of the most complex businesses you can run,” she says.
“I was always at the pointy end, the business end of the arts. Sadly, I’m not an artist, but I was the one looking after tens of millions of dollars and hundreds of people’s livelihoods.
“My role was to make sure that we were front of mind for government, that we connected with corporate sponsorship, that we delivered what was needed for the artists and that we met the city’s expectations. They are pretty major deliverables.”
If her bid for Lord Mayor is successful, one of her first goals will be to refocus on the city’s main streets and precincts and reinvigorate them with a Splash Adelaide-style approach, using pop-up events and special activities to draw a crowd.
“That’s absolutely how you connect business with community so you look at the offering of a main street in the city of Adelaide – they’re all quite unique – and you sit down with the traders, find the essence of the street and splash it with activation which talks to that street,” she says.
She’s been giving some thought to “bringing life back” Melbourne Street and muses that its combination of great food, yoga, massage and hairdressers, among other services, would align with a wellbeing agenda.
Her strategies for cultivating a dynamic culture also include opening up the town hall as “a centre of debate and discussion” with regular forums such as those held at the venue during July’s Festival of Ideas, which Verschoor produced.
Forging stronger links with the many communities that make up our multicultural city, fostering our artistic energy and embracing new technology are other ways she plans to enhance Adelaide’s cultural identity.
“There’s a particular energy that comes with artists and makers, that’s all sorts of making – film, screen industries like gaming, fashion, tech – and that’s very attractive for a city,” she says.
“We’ve got that but there’s so much more we can do with it. I’ve met some of the people moving into Lot 14 – the old RAH site – and that’s really exciting and we’re looking at how we connect those people back into the city.
“There’s huge potential in the screen industry with Rising Sun, Mighty Kingdom, Monkeystack, with Technicolor moving in, with the universities all getting behind the creative industries and new courses coming out. The work that Flinders, Uni SA and Adelaide are doing is incredible in that space.
“I’ve come out strongly about trackless trams. The window to autonomous vehicles and trackless trams is so small, the trackless trams technology is being tested and trialled right now, they’re ready to roll out in Perth, and working with Canberra and Victoria.
“These things are just around the corner and we need to be prepared for them.”
The council has a lot on its plate, admits Verschoor, and two of the biggest projects she’ll be overseeing if elected are 88 O’Connell St (the old Le Cornu site) and the Central Market Arcade.
She is enthusiastic about council ward candidate Mary Couros’s recent proposal for a Boxpark, using refitted shipping containers, as a temporary solution for the O’Connell Street land and says a cutting-edge development is crucial in the long term.
While she has been reported as saying she wants a concert hall on the site, Verschoor says it is just an idea to encourage people to be more “creative and innovative with what we’re going to do with this incredibly important catalyst site”.
“Rather than just putting up a couple of towers of residential blocks – I do want residents there – can we be more creative? If you can combine something like a concert hall with a music school and residential and maybe an art hotel, all of a sudden you’ve got a totally different offering,” she says.
“I’m not saying that is the thing that needs to be there but let’s think of other uses and not restrict anybody who wants to put an expression of interest in, let’s not restrict them by the cookie cutter method saying this is what you have to have.”
Adelaide hasn’t had a female Lord Mayor in nearly two decades – Dr Jane Lomax Smith held the job from 1997 to 2000 – but the statistic isn’t weighing on Verschoor’s mind.
“I can only be who I am. I’m a feminist at heart, particularly because I have two girls,” she says.
“I’ve had to stand up for the rights of females in the workplace over many years … I’m often still one of few women in the room.
“Even if I don’t get in, I’m proud of the message I’m sending to my girls.”
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