CBD and Harbour

CBD and Harbour is undoubtedly the hub of business activity within Sydney, which prides itself as Australia’s global city and a regional financial hub. The presence of a significant number of office workers creates a market for supporting businesses, in particular food and drink, and retail and personal services.

The area is also a world-renowned tourist destination and the tourist market further supports local businesses.

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Employing businesses by type and size

Table 2 displays data from the City of Sydney's Floor Space and Employment Survey, 2012 (FES). It shows the number of employing businesses within CBD and Harbour, categorised by their city-based industry sector and size (number of employees).

Unlike many other villages within the City of Sydney, CBD and Harbour demonstrates a significant presence of large businesses. In 2012, businesses in the area employed an average of 26.61 workers per business. The proportion of businesses with 20 or more workers was also high at 19.8%, compared to the City of Sydney local area average of 15.3%.

The table highlights the dominance of white-collar businesses within CBD and Harbour, with the professional and business services sector accounting for 23.6% of all businesses. The finance and financial services sector made up a further 14.8% of all businesses, with this sector dominating in terms of employment, accounting for 36.6% of employment in CBD and Harbour. 

However, the second highest number of businesses was in the retail and personal services sector, which made up 15.5% of businesses and was predominantly comprised of very small and small businesses. This is due to the area’s status as the retail heart of Sydney, and this sector is also supported by the office worker market to a certain extent.

In the period between 2007 and 2012 there was an increase in the number of business establishments in 8 of the 19 city-based industry sectors. The largest sectoral increase over the period occurred in the professional and business services sector, with the addition of 296 business establishments. This was followed by growth in the health sector with 95 additional businesses and the food and drink sector with an additional 81 business establishments.

Table 2 – Number of Employing Businesses by Size, 2012

Sector Very Small (1–4) Small (5–19) Medium (20–199) Large (200+) Total Total (%)
Community 4 6 8 0 18 0.2
Creative Industries 212 187 83 8 490 5.8%%
Finance & Financial Services 293 555 345 67 1,260 14.8%
Food & Drink 369 486 100 5 960 11.3%
Government 18 42 61 15 136 1.6%
Health 317 163 27 0 507 6.0%
Higher Education & Research 66 75 47 3 191 2.3%
ICT 114 180 80 10 384 4.5%
Life Science (Bio-Tech) 37 30 5 1 73 0.9%
Manufacturing 37 13 11 1 62 0.7%
Motor Vehicle 2 1 1 0 4 0.0%
Natural Resource-Based Industries 11 29 11 1 52 0.6%
Professional & Business Services 622 908 437 39 2,006 23.6%
Property Development & Operation 81 105 40 6 232 2.7%
Retail & Personal Services 786 465 62 5 1,318 15.5%
Social Capital 69 64 25 1 159 1.9%
Tourist, Cultural & Leisure 113 162 117 12 404 4.8%
Transport & Logistics 98 78 36 0 212 2.5%
Utilities 6 4 5 2 17 0.2%
Total 3,255 3,553 1,501 176 8,485 100.0%
Source: Floor Space and Employment Survey, 2012 – City of Sydney

Food and drink

Food and drink businesses within CBD and Harbour have seen significant growth in recent years. This has been reflected in growth in the amount of floor area dedicated to restaurant and eating uses in the area, which provides a useful indicator of the amount of food and beverage activity.

As shown in Table 3, between 2007 and 2012, the amount of restaurant/eating floor space in the area increased by 24,329 sqm, or 9%. This increased the sector’s share of total CBD and Harbour floor area to 2.8%. This space use division also saw a substantial increase in the number of employees, which grew by 1,524 people, or 15%.

The 275,794 sqm of restaurant/eating floor space in CBD and Harbour in 2012 was the largest of all 10 villages, and represented 38% of the total supply in the City of Sydney local area.

Table 3 – Restaurant/Eating Floorspace and Employees

2007 2012
Internal Floorspace (sq.m) 251,465 275,794
% of Total Floor Area 2.6% 2.8%
Employees 9,997 11,521
% of Total Employment 4.6% 5.1%

Source: Floor Space and Employment Survey, 2012 – City of Sydney

Over the year period, the number of restaurant establishments increased from 187 to 240, resulting in a 19% increase in restaurant seating (see Table 4). Furthermore, the number of café establishments increased from 276 to 301, seeing a 33% increase in the number of café/coffee lounge seats. 

Table 4 – Restaurant/Eating Capacity Measures

2007 2012 % Change 2007-2012
Restaurant Seating 71,466 85,317 19.4%
Café/Coffee Lounge Seating 20,832 27,761 33.3%

Source: Floor Space and Employment Survey, 2012 – City of Sydney

Figure 5 shows the distribution of restaurant floor space across the CBD and Harbour area.

This shows that restaurant floor space is widely spread across the entire area.

The largest amounts of restaurant floor space can be found along King Street Wharf on the western edge of the area, at Westfield Sydney adjacent to Pitt Street Mall and along George Street to the east of Wynyard train station.

Figure 5 – Restaurant Floor Space

Figure 5 – Restaurant Floorspace


Table 5 summarises the amount of retail space in CBD and Harbour, as indicated by the supply of shop/showroom floor space. This shows that between 2007 and 2012, the amount of shop/showroom floor space increased by 11,042sqm, or 4%, which is relatively small compared to growth in other space uses within the area. However the retail floor space provided within CBD and Harbour is the largest provision in all 10 City areas, and represents 26% of the total supply in the City of Sydney local area.

Over the period between 2007 and 2012, the amount of workers associated with shop/showroom floor space remained essentially unchanged.

Figure 6 shows the distribution of shop/showroom floor space across CBD and Harbour. This shows that the main concentration of retail floor space is along Pitt Street Mall and the surrounding retail centres of Westfield Sydney, Strand Arcade and The Galeries. Pitt Street Mall is one of the most sought-after retail strips in Sydney due to the high level of pedestrian traffic and central location, and consequently attracts some of the highest rents in Australia.

Other areas of moderate retail floor space provision exist along King Street Wharf and at The Rocks, which primarily target the tourist market.

Table 5 – Shop/Showroom Floor Space and Employees

2007 2012
Internal Floor Space (sq.m) 247,679 258,721
% of Total Floor Area 2.6% 2.6%
Employees 9,504 9,522
% of Total Employment 4.4% 4.2%
Source: Floor Space and Employment Survey, 2012 – City of Sydney

Figure 6 – Shop/Showroom Floorspace

Figure 5 – Restaurant Floorspace


CBD and Harbour is a hub of cultural activity and hence the area has an abundance of entertainment and leisure floor space. This space serves the local and tourist markets equally well, with the Opera House and Sydney Theatre Company providing theatre and performing arts entertainment and the range of clubs, internet cafés and fitness clubs providing alternative entertainment options to cater to all markets.

As shown in Table 6, in 2012 there was 233,153 sqm of entertainment/leisure floor space in CBD and Harbour. Again, this was the largest provision in this category across all 10 villages and represented 27% of the total supply for the City of Sydney local area.

Between 2007 and 2012, entertainment and leisure floor space in CBD and Harbour increased by 13,816 sqm, or 6%. Meanwhile the number of employees in this space use increased by 26%.

Table 6 – Entertainment/Leisure Floorspace and Employees

2007 2012
Internal Floor Space (sqm) 219,337 233,153
% of Total Floor Area 2.3% 2.4%
Employees 1,040 1,306
% of Total Employment 0.5% 0.6%

Source: Floor Space and Employment Survey, 2012 – City of Sydney

The map in Figure 7 shows the distribution of entertainment floor space across the CBD and Harbour area, with the most floor space in the following locations:

  • Sydney Opera House, one of the most iconic entertainment destinations in the world.
  • Millers Point/Walsh Bay, with businesses such as the Sydney Theatre and Sydney Dance companies.
  • Between Hyde Park and the Royal Botanic Gardens, where the Hyde Park Barracks Museum, Sydney Mint Museum and State Library of NSW are all located.

Figure 7 – Entertainment/Leisure Floor Space

Figure 7 – Entertainment/Leisure Floorspace


CBD and Harbour is dominated by high density office buildings and skyscrapers covering the majority of land within the area. As a result, CBD and Harbour has the highest office floor area within the City of Sydney local area, with nearly 3.9 million sqm in 2012 (see Table 7). This represented 48% of the total amount of office floor space in the City of Sydney local area, highlighting the area’s position as the focal point for commercial activity.

Between 2007 and 2012 the amount of office floor space in CBD and Harbour increased by 6% while the number of workers in office spaces increased by 5%.

Table 7 – Office Floorspace and Employment

2007 2012
Internal Floorspace (sq.m) 3,675,228 3,890,238
% of Total Floor Area 38.3% 39.6%
Employees 191,100 200,269
% of Total Employment 88.7% 88.2%

Source: Floor Space and Employment Survey, 2012 – City of Sydney

As shown in Figure 8, office floor space is provided in large quantities across almost the entire area, the southern three-quarters in particular. The light pink shaded area in the western corner of CBD and Harbour shown in Figure 8 is the Barangaroo site, which is currently being developed with significant quantities of office floor space.

The area around The Rocks and Dawes Point has a lower amount of office floor space due to the presence of historical buildings, many with heritage listings. This has meant that the area is not a densely developed as the rest of CBD and Harbour and remains more residential in character.

Figure 8 – Office Floor Space

Figure 8 Office Floorspace 

What does this mean for my business?

This section can assist both existing businesses and those considering locating at CBD and Harbour in identifying the presence of competing and/or complementary businesses.

For some businesses, the presence of complementary businesses can be an important factor in deciding location due to the benefits of ‘agglomeration economies’. The clustering of a significant amount of retail around Pitt Street Mall highlights this principle, with many of the businesses finding it advantageous to locate in a shopping precinct with significant power to attract shoppers.

Conversely, other types of business may prefer to locate far away from competitive business. Examples here would include supermarkets and cinemas, businesses which benefit from a ‘captive’ market. Analysis of current space use patterns within the area may be useful in identifying potential opportunities. 


This information has been compiled from various sources. The publisher and contributors accept no responsibility for any injury, loss or damage arising from the use, error or omissions therein. While all care is taken to ensure a high degree of accuracy, users are invited to notify the City of Sydney of any discrepancies. No part of this information, including maps or data, may be reproduced without written permission.

Last updated: Tuesday, 16 June 2015