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New leaf for Tea House building

06 May 2020

New leaf for Tea House building Image

By Sean Car

Southbank’s historic Robur Tea Building is expected to undergo restoration having been purchased by a new owner in March.

Developer CostaFox acquired the heritage-listed building for $28 million in an off-market sale managed by real estate group CBRE from developer RJ International (Aus) Pty Ltd who had owned it for 10 years.

CostaFox managing director Michael Fox told CBRE in March that he was “elated with the acquisition.”

“To buy a site like this in this location with such a beautiful heritage building is difficult at the best of times. We plan to restore the building to its former glory.”

The developer has history in restoring old buildings in Melbourne having won the Australian Property Institute Heritage Property Award in 2014 for its redevelopment of the old Tip Top Bakery site in East Brunswick.

CostaFox development director Geno Hubay said the company had already commenced a worldwide search for the “best architects” to bring the Tea House “back to life”.

While the news of a restored Tea House comes as welcome news for one of Southbank’s last-remaining heritage icons, questions remain over the developer’s plans for the adjoining sit at the corner of Clarendon St and Normanby Rd.

The news of CostaFox’s acquisition follows Heritage Victoria’s (HV) decision to refuse a permit to previous owner RJ International (Aus) Pty Ltd for its proposal to build a 24-storey hotel at the adjoining site to the Tea House last year.

That news came after the developer had previously attempted to seek approval for a 39-storey proposal. Its ultimate proposal for 24 storeys was knocked back by HV on the grounds that it would have negatively encroached on the Tea House.

“It has been determined that the construction of a 24-storey tower on the Robur Tea Building site would have a substantial detrimental impact on the cultural heritage significance of the place and on the setting and views of the Robur Tea Building,” a letter from HV to RJ International said.

“It has been determined that refusal would not prevent the reasonable or economic use of the registered place; also, that viable economic use of the Robur Tea Building does not require the level of change proposed.”

The City of Melbourne’s heritage portfolio chair Cr Rohan Leppert said at the time that Heritage Victoria’s decision acknowledged that the proposed new building would have overwhelmed the Tea House.

“I think the site is able to be developed, but like Heritage Victoria, council will be considering whether the Tea House is being given enough room to ensure its integrity as a building of state significance stays intact.”

Southbank Residents’ Association (SRA) president Tony Penna said, “we acknowledge the recent sale of Southbank’s historic tea house by CBRE with trepidation.”

“Only recently SRA fought hard to have this building preserved after a development was proposed on the car park adjoining which would have truly impacted on the heritage of the site, which was also the view of Heritage Victoria.”

“Fortunately, owing to those heritage issues, that development was not able to proceed. Southbank’s Tea House is one of the few remaining heritage sites left in Southbank. We would certainly welcome any preservation or enhancement of the sight by the new owner.”

The Tea House’s southern lift shaft, which was added onto the original building, is not heritage listed and could be demolished as part of any development plans on the adjoining site.

Built in 1887, the heritage-listed property is one of the most prominent examples of a 19th century warehouse in Melbourne. The building was designed by Nahum Barnet and built by James Moore and John Grainger for printers and manufacturing stationers, Fergusson & Mitchell.

For many years the former factory and warehouse was one of the tallest buildings outside the CBD, with its height and character establishing it as a Southbank landmark.  

The building, which has been largely vacant for several years, has a net lettable area of 3250 sqm and occupies a large 2948 sqm site •

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