By Tristan Davies – President, Melbourne Heritage Action
You may have heard the recent news of the Nicholas Building on Flinders Lane going up for international sale for the first time in 48 years.
The Nicholas Building is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register, the state’s highest level of protection, meaning both inside and out are protected from physical change, subject to permits. This doesn’t completely bar redevelopment such as small additions on top or inside the building though, should the Heritage Council be persuaded by arguments from developer-paid heritage consultants.
You’ll be reassured to know the danger of any significant demolitions or physical changes to the building is low, but the cultural heritage of the Nicholas Building, something not as tangible and not as well protected by heritage laws, could well be under threat.
Currently home a diverse range of businesses, clubs, art spaces, studios and one of a kind retail spaces inside its film noir style corridors, and with a rich history of creativity by the likes of its most iconic former tenant Vali Myers, the Nicholas Building truly represents the heart and soul of Melbourne’s artistic social heritage, and acts as an oasis of creativity and discovery in a city where our famed and well-advertised “quirky, creative hidden secrets” have been at risk of disappearing thanks to the success they have given our city. Unfortunately, Melbourne’s rigid planning scheme barely accounts for such intangible values such as use or social heritage, or the holistic loss of one creative venue after the other very well at all.
In the past half-decade, Melbourne CBD’s has lost the vast majority of its artist-run galleries and studios, either closing entirely or moving to other municipalities, as well as a number of alternative nightlife spaces, a surprising amount of its street art walls and one-of-a-kind shops, and a number of significant live music venues such as the Palace Theatre, often purely to increase the profits of wealthy investors and developers. Doubling of rents overnight and other gentrification factors have also played in heavily.
The Nicholas Building stands tall as one of the CBD’s last havens of what made Melbourne a truly liveable and visitable CBD with a point of difference, that unique creative spirit right in the heart of the city, a place for alternatives among the nine to five work, chain stores, mass of apartments and upmarket tourism offers you could find in any city in the world.
We believe with such an important asset to the City of Melbourne, it is in the long-term interests of the council to purchase the building itself, as they did with the Munro site next to Queen Victoria Market in recent years to prevent potential development into a supermarket and inappropriate high-rise complex. Perhaps the use of covenants such as that which runs the Abbotsford Convent should also be discussed. The cost of losing such a cultural icon to investor profits and gentrification is too immense.
With protection of intangible social heritage, incentive to keep rents low, creative programs expanded, and an owner that truly cares about its cultural role at the northern end of the Arts Precinct spine, the Nicholas Building can play a key part in Melbourne’s future recovery and status as the creative capital •