Creative solution sought for Nicholas Building

By Rhonda Dredge

Politics is playing a big part in the sale of the Nicholas Building in the CBD and potential buyers will have to run the gauntlet of scrutiny as they do inspections.

The Nicholas Building Association is planning on putting in an expression of interest to purchase the city’s most creative building. 

“We’re talking to philanthropic organisations and government to put in a bid for the EOI,” architect and spokesperson for the association Andrew Milward-Bason said.

The 10-storey building on Swanston St is on the market for an estimated $80 million. Interested parties have until August 12 to put in an expression of interest.  

The association wants to see the building stay in the hands of the city’s creative community. 

It compares it to PMQ in Hong Kong and a digital hub in William St in Sydney, both purchased by governments so that creative industries were given a chance to prosper.

The culture of the Nicholas has evolved over decades to include fine artists, makers, gallerists, designers and small artistic businesses, operating out of 112 studios.

They stress the importance of the way it has evolved to cater for a range of practices.

“Some prefer a three-by-three-by-three lease,” Andrew said. “Others like me renew on a monthly basis.” 

Andrew set up his architectural practice at the Nicholas Building seven years ago but didn’t know if his idea would work so the flexibility suited him.

Many came with similar stories as they slowly explored the building and made connections with the 200-strong artistic community.

International experts on incubators and creative communities have made studies of the way the building works. 

“This place is managed from the ground up and we want to keep it that way,” Andrew said.

The building is owned by a group of Melbourne families who are, according to agents, selling it as a “repositioning opportunity” to coincide with the completion of Town Hall Station. 

Agents say that some of the rentals on the upper floors are below market value.

Yet the tenants’ association claims that it negotiated rent waivers during the lockdown that stemmed the exodus of tenants, as seen in some other CBD buildings.

“We would have expected about 50 per cent vacancy if we hadn’t negotiated,” Andrew claimed. 

The association expects the buyers to be patrons of the arts and to be “okay with the organic nature of the building.”

The association has a grant from the City of Melbourne to develop a business plan for the building.

Ross House in Flinders Lane was bought by philanthropic organisations and is self-managed by community organisations. 

The association claims a similar model could be used at the Nicholas Building •

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