By Sunny Liu
A public debate hosted by Open House Melbourne on February 13 presented contrasting opinions about whether an Apple flagship store should be built at Federation Square.
Held at Federation Square’s Deakin Edge building, the public debate invited Federation Square CEO Jonathan Tribe, Committee for Melbourne CEO Martine Letts and architects Donald Bates and Jill Garner to the affirmative team.
City of Melbourne councillor Rohan Leppert, Citizens for Melbourne director Tania Davidge, National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) director Esther Anatolitis and architect Ron Jones were on the negative team.
In December, the State Government and Federation Square announced the 15-year-old Yarra Building on the southern end of the square would be demolished to make way for an Apple flagship store.
As Federation Square’s CEO, Mr Tribe presented a business case by arguing that the Apple store would financially revive the square.
“The square now operates in a highly competitive environment. Our identity as Australia’s premium civic square is under threat from Darling Harbour and the new Yagan Square in Perth, both are technologically advanced,” he said.
“The development of restaurants in Flinders Lane has impacted Fed Square’s food and beverage patronage, most of which are understood to not meet their respective business plans and certainly not meeting rental expectations,” Mr Tribe said.
He said two hospitality operators have closed in the past 12 months and another two wanted to leave Federation Square.
“Visitation to Federation Square had reduced from 11 million per year to 10 at present. And now in our 16th year, the infrastructure needs significant maintenance of about $15 million over the next 10 years,” Mr Tribe said.
Being a public non-financial corporation, Federation Square is not eligible for funding or grants from the State Government like other arts and cultural organisations.
“The depth and breadth of Apple’s cultural impact complements Federation Square … From a business perspective, Apple store makes Federation Square more vibrant,” Mr Tribe said.
Councillor Rohan Leppert argued such a development would not be viable due to lack of public consultation.
“It lacks legitimacy and frankly, it should lack legitimacy no matter what our thoughts are about the design of the store and the square’s integration with the Yarra,” he said.
“It’s no about the architecture but about the use of the space. Melburnians’ relationship with Federation Square is part of our DNA. Having no public process will make the public lose faith in the Victorian planning system,” Cr Leppert said.
At the end the debate, more than 90 per cent of the live audience supported the negative team.
A petition has been circulating by community group Our City, Our Square to converge the public to oppose to the development.