Council ticks off stage one of Southbank Promenade, but remainder “now anyone’s guess”
The City of Melbourne has breathed new life into some tired sections of Southbank Promenade, but finishing the remaining planned upgrades may not be achieved for some years.
The council, in partnership with the state government, celebrated the completion of stage one of its $3.8 million upgrade of Southbank Promenade in July.
Stage one includes the stretch between Princes Bridge and Southgate in front of Hamer Hall, as well as a further small section between Southgate’s main entrance and Evan Walker Bridge.
The works have provided a more spacious promenade, fresh bluestone paving, lighting upgrades, upgraded seating as well as new trees, including a cabbage tree palm, paperbark trees and jacarandas.
Lord Mayor Sally Capp said completing stage one marked a “major milestone for this significant project” along one of the city’s busiest and most popular thoroughfares.
“Southbank is one of our most popular destinations in the city, as proven by the soaring foot traffic that beats benchmark levels on nights and weekends,” Cr Capp said.
“It’s essential for the traders, residents and visitors of Southbank that this hotspot is a welcoming place to shop, dine and work,” she said.
“This stage has delivered new bluestone paths to boost accessibility, as well as the addition of new seating, lighting and trees stretching all the way from Princes Bridge to the Evan Walker Bridge.”
With stage one having caused significant disruption, in particular to traders along Hamer Hall, the council’s city transport, infrastructure and operations portfolio lead Cr Davydd Griffiths thanked the community for its patience.
“We’d like to thank all of the local businesses and residents for their patience and support while we’ve got under way with this project,” he said.
Tens of thousands of people visit Southbank Promenade every day, and this new and improved space will encourage even more visitors to the neighbourhood into the future.
While stage one was originally meant to incorporate the entire stretch between Princes Bridge and Evan Walker Bridge, redevelopment plans by Southgate’s owners ESR Australia saw the council remove the section in front of the precinct’s food court from its schedule of works.
ESR has approval for $470 million plans to partially demolish its current three-storey complex to make way for new bars, restaurants, and shops within a new five-storey podium, as well as a 26-storey office building, which would be complemented with riverside parkland.
But ESR hasn’t yet announced when it expects to begin construction, meaning the long-awaited upgrades to the section of Southbank Promenade outside its precinct is likely to be many years away from being completed.
The council says it is working with ESR to coordinate future works in front of Southgate following their redevelopment.
In a statement provided to Southbank News, an ESR spokesperson said, “As an active asset manager working alongside the current owners, ESR Australia has been involved in reviewing the plans for Southgate to ensure any future development caters to the needs of retailers, the local community, and visitors alike in a post-COVID-19 environment. The approval granted includes several conditions that must be met prior to any further action on the project.”
“ESR Australia remains focused on supporting retailers and improving the customer experience. Recent works have had a particular focus on the food court and restoration of public art to enhance the pedestrian experience along the Yarra River promenade.”
And while the council’s full upgrade of the promenade takes in the stretch between Princes Bridge all the way to Queensbridge St, the timing of when the remaining sections between Evan Walker Bridge and Queensbridge Square will begin also remains unknown.
The council said upgrades between Evan Walker Bridge and Queensbridge St were set to start following the completion of the Southgate development but didn’t confirm the specific reasons as to why when asked by Southbank News.
A City of Melbourne spokesperson said $500,000 had been allocated in its budget over the next two financial years to begin design and planning on the future stages of the transformation of Southbank Promenade, including between Evan Walker Bridge and Queensbridge Square.
Former joint venture partners Crown Resorts and Schiavello had originally promised funding to upgrade Queensbridge Square and the section of the promenade up to Evan Walker Bridge as part of its $2 billion Queensbridge Tower project, which never went ahead.
Renewal of Queensbridge Square, including the long-awaited removal of the infamous “Red Stairs”, is also tied up in the council’s “stage six” upgrades of Southbank Boulevard between the promenade and City Rd.
While praising the council for its current upgrade of the promenade to date, Yarra River Business Association (YRBA) president Jeremy Vincent said it was “now anyone’s guess” as to when the outstanding works would be completed.
“Originally, Crown was going to fund it [between Queensbridge St and Evan Walker Bridge] as part of a ‘community contribution’ required when building its third tower. However, that money disappeared when the tower project was cancelled,” he said. “So, funding for the rest of the promenade now needs to come completely from the council coffers.”
Southbank Residents’ Association (SRA) president Tony Penna said SRA was “delighted” to see stage one upgrades completed but labelled the council’s decision to delay Queensbridge Square upgrades as “bewildering”.
“These works [stage one] had been in planning for some time and were long overdue. However, we are bewildered with council’s decision to place the Queensbridge Square section on hold owing to the anticipated works for stage six of Southbank Boulevard,” he said.
“The Boulevard works were designed after much community consultation in 2018; SRA cannot see any reason for a delay to Queensbridge Square upgrades owing to anticipated Southbank Boulevard works. We say let’s just get on with it and not finish the promenade in a piecemeal fashion.”
The council said community members would have a chance to have their say on all future works prior to construction getting under way. •