Plans lodged to “reinvigorate” David Jones store

By Brendan Rees

Plans for a $30 million revamp could see David Jones’ Bourke St menswear store transformed into a new city landmark, with a flagship retail tenant and modern offices, if approved by the City of Melbourne.

Newmark Capital, which owns the historic building, recently lodged plans to “reinvigorate” the building at 299 Bourke St while being “sympathetic and respectful of the existing heritage fabric”.  

The application, prepared by leading architects Bates Smart, has sought a planning permit to replace the Bourke St frontage with a stylish shopfront, metal canopies, and glazed facade, as part of an enhancement of both the Bourke and Little Collins street frontages.

A pitch to the City of Melbourne said a refurbishment of the heritage-listed building would “add to the vibrancy of the retail core and contribute to the existing mix of land uses and activities” while bringing the “building up to date for the next generation of retailers”. 

It’s proposed the basement, ground and first floors will be dedicated to retail, with a mix of modern office spaces across the four upper floors, and the rooftops to become “stylish and contemporary” outdoor terraces.

The upper floors, currently used for storage and administration, would be opened up and refurbished as modern offices, “providing unique workplaces with high-end facilities”. 

Under the plans, there will also be a supermarket in the basement along with 45 bicycle spaces. 

Newmark Capital’s property general manager Angus Machutchison said if approved, the upgrade would begin, once David Jones’ intended closure of its menswear in 2022 occurs.

“We believe this building will play its part in the revitalisation of Melbourne’s CBD, which has borne the brunt of COVID-19 restrictions,” Mr Machutchison said.

“We are in the final stages of negotiations with leading international and national retailers, who have expressed strong interest in the site.”

Mr Machutchison acknowledged the iconic building occupied a “unique place in Melbourne’s retail history”, with the new additions to take a respectful approach to the building’s significant heritage.   

“Our vision for the building is inspiredby the original architecture and stays true to 299 Bourke St’s history while adding new, high-quality, retail spaces and reactivating the building’s upper levels,” he said. 

City of Melbourne Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece said while the proposal was “incredibly exciting”, the application would be “very carefully considered”, noting it “would need to recognise the area’s special character and history”. 

“As with all development applications, this will be judged on its merits,” he said. 

“Bourke Street Mall is the heart of our city and a prime retail destination known across the country.” 

“It shows there is great confidence in the future of our city’s economy to recover from the impacts of COVID-19.”

The David Jones store on the south side of Bourke St was built in two stages in 1929-30 and 1938 as the flagship store of G J Coles Pty Ltd. It was designed by prominent Melbourne architect Harry Norris. 

A four-storey extension to the west was undertaken from 1938 to 1939, before being sold to David Jones in 1986 when it was altered and partially restored. 

Along with the City of Melbourne, Heritage Victoria will also consider the plans. 

The Victorian Heritage Register lists the iconic building as “architecturally significant for its distinctive and intact terracotta facade, making it one of the most exuberant and colourful interwar buildings in the city” •

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