By Meg Hill
Before all of our lives, and all of the news, became dominated by coronavirus (COVID-19) there was news regarding a longstanding debate in the CBD – the status of Federation Square.
The deadline for a state government decision about the future of Federation Square is still set to “early 2020”, but early in March, the City of Melbourne made a bold intervention.
It asked the state government to alter the square’s management structure to appoint the Council as manager – in return for a $22 million investment that could include the relocation of the City Library and a revamped Koorie Heritage Trust.
The square is currently managed through its own board. It is not government-run or -funded.
Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the City of Melbourne wanted to partner with the state government and stakeholders to enhance and invigorate Federation Square.
“The state government’s recent review of Federation Square has galvanised ideas for this civic space and the opportunity for the City of Melbourne to step up as manager,” the Lord Mayor said.
“We have a proven track record of delivering major events – Moomba, New Year celebrations, Melbourne Music Week, Melbourne Fashion Week – to name just a few. We have the talent and experience to bring Melburnians back to Fed Square.”
If appointed manager, the City of Melbourne would “consider” investing $15 million to relocate the City Library to the square, with another $7 million dedicated to a revamp of the Koorie Heritage Trust.
The City Library is due to move out of its Flinders Lane address by the end of this year when its lease expires.
“This much needed investment would preserve the cultural and civic value of this iconic Melbourne space and attract hundreds of thousands of visitors,” the Lord Mayor said.
“Making Fed Square the home of Melbourne’s most popular lending library would provide Melburnians with free access to event spaces, creative technologies and world-class resources.”
The funding is contingent on Council being given management responsibilities for the site – including tenancies, maintenance and activation.
Deputy Lord Mayor Arron Wood said the proposal would cement Federation Square as a community meeting place and cultural hub.
“Melburnians have been loud and clear about what they want for Federation Square – they want this iconic site to be about people, civic and cultural engagement and for it to be a true ‘people’s square’,” the Deputy Lord Mayor said.
“Investing $15 million to relocate our City Library will attract one million more visitors to the square per year, bringing life and economic activity to the square. That foot traffic will be critical to the existing small businesses in Federation Square.”
“The Koorie Heritage Trust does an amazing job of teaching Australians about our Aboriginal history. This $7 million funding boost will ensure the stories the stories the Trust tells and the experiences it offers reach even more people.”
The City of Melbourne said it had made a comprehensive submission to the state government’s Federation Square Review.
Our City, Our Square, a group that campaigned against the unsuccessful bid for an Apple store in the square last year, signaled they would support the proposal, but kept other options open.
“While Our City, Our Square is yet to endorse the idea – and that’s all it is for now – we recognise that it aims to protect the iconic Square as our most important civic space,” the campaign stated on its website.
Federation Square management had not publicly responded to the City of Melbourne’s proposal by the time events and attention – including at the square – became dominated by COVID-19.
On March 13, the square announced it would work in compliance with the federal government’s announcements of public gathering limitations.
On March 19, non-essential staff at Federation Square were directed to stay home after an administration staff member tested positive for COVID-19 •