Council restores hope to veteran art dream at 310 St Kilda Rd

By Sean Car

The City of Melbourne is understood to be interested in acquiring the former repatriation clinic building at 310 St Kilda Rd in Southbank.

The historic art-deco building at Victoria Barracks, which has been vacant for more than 20 years, has long been the subject of a proposal by the Australian National Veteran Arts Museum (ANVAM) to house an arts and wellbeing hub for veterans recovering from trauma.

The not-for-profit group, which is still seeking to be appointed as a trustee of the site, has been at the centre of the long-running saga for many years as it has sought clarity on the building’s future from all levels of government.

However, the site’s current owner the Commonwealth Department of Defence has long considered the site surplus to requirements and has unsuccessfully sought to offload it to the state government in the past.

Under Commonwealth Property Disposal Policy (CPDP), the building can be transferred between any state, territory and local government at a peppercorn rate before being put on the open market.

While previous negotiations between the federal and state governments failed, the City of Melbourne threw ANVAM’s dream a lifeline in March last year when it agreed to explore options for a potential off-market sale.

But City of Melbourne CEO Justin Hanney said this month that the council was still completing “due diligence” on the land transfer before it was able to fully consider ANVAM’s proposal.

“The land fronts Coventry St and St Kilda Rd and is the site of the former Repatriation Commission Outpatient Clinic. The building has been vacant for 20 years and is in a state of disrepair,” Mr Hanney said.

“Prior to council considering this proposal, we would need to complete the necessary due diligence on the land transfer. We would also need to view a detailed business case from the proponents on the proposed funding model and maintenance regime and to ensure the transaction is at no net cost to council.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Defence said it welcomed the City of Melbourne’s interest.

“Defence is assisting the City of Melbourne regarding its interest in an off-market divestment in acquiring 310 St Kilda Road,” the spokesperson said. “Defence welcomes the news that the City of Melbourne is exploring the potential future use of this property for veterans’ outcomes.”

“Defence values its veterans and recognises the importance of veterans’ rehabilitation activities. Defence will ensure that the heritage values of 310 St Kilda Road are protected as part of any sale process.”

“At present, there are safety and building compliance matters that prevent occupation of the building. To protect the heritage values of the site, and address work health and safety obligations, a future owner must have a financially viable strategy to maintain the heritage values and reduce the safety risks.”

Constructed in 1937, the clinic was important for the rehabilitation of veterans and provided a wide range of services to support injured soldiers with recovery and reintegration into civilian life.

The Department of Defence has previously nominated the property for the Victorian State Heritage Register. However, the Heritage Council of Victoria is unable to consider the application until ownership of the building is settled.

The cost of restoring the building, known to be riddled with asbestos, has been estimated between $10 and $20 million and would likely be required to be shared across all governments.

While ANVAM says that these are costs it is willing to seek philanthropic support for if necessary, the group has also previously developed a business case for its proposal at the request of Creative Victoria, which forecasts a positive return on investment.

While separated from the Arts Precinct by the Victoria Barracks, the building also sits within the state government’s zoned Southbank Arts Precinct. ANVAM says its proposal lends itself to a range of government strategies relating to the creative industries and mental health.

ARM Architecture has been working pro bono for ANVAM on the project, which would include an art gallery and community retail, as well as an extension for a performance studio for dance, music and theatre.

ANVAM chairman Mark Johnston thanked the City of Melbourne for its interest.

“On behalf of the veteran community we are grateful to the Melbourne City Council for its interest, leadership and commitment to supporting ANVAM preserve this building,” he said.

“Pending the council’s further consideration, we look forward to a long partnership that will create a new destination in Melbourne’s Arts Precinct.” •

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