By Rohan Storey
Vice President, Melbourne Heritage Action
As the development boom slows, a number of heritage sites slated for demolition and re-development sit idle like ghosts in the middle of the city.
These sites are either caught between real estate flipping, land banking or a lack of development funds, robbing Melbourne of much-loved and -needed cultural and historic spaces
Walk past the Duke of Kent Hotel on La Trobe St, for instance; a 1920s Neo-Egyptian pub, once home to the influential New Theatre, now standing empty for over two years with broken windows and boarded doors since the Minister for Planning approved its demolition for an apartment tower. However, it’s recently been flipped to another buyer and its future remains undetermined. Currently it sits needlessly empty where a pub could have clearly kept trading in the interim.
Similarly, the Campbell Arcade sits in a sad state with half its tenants removed early by the Metro Rail Authority (MRA) ahead of tunnel construction works below Flinders St. Despite no approval for any works from Heritage Victoria being given for the demolition of half the arcade and its placement behind ticket barriers where there has been little in the way of community consultation, a creative hub sits lingering where it could still be thriving.
Most egregious though is the state of the Palace Theatre on Bourke St; a popular and successful live music venue shut out of spite by a developer five years ago, needlessly stripped of its heritage interior and still sitting as an empty shell, with no sign at all of development taking place. Imagine how many great gigs could have taken place in the interim, enriching the live music culture of Melbourne and supporting nearby businesses. Instead a single developer is allowed to keep an important heritage building derelict when it could be full of life.
Seeing a heritage building and all the uses and life it could contain in a ghost state with its fate uncertain is almost as tragic as the demolition itself.