Residents call for greater input in the delivery of the Melbourne Arts Precinct transformation
The project leaders behind the Melbourne Arts Precinct transformation will consider forming a working group with the Southbank community to ensure they are actively engaged in the $1.7 billion redevelopment.
The proposal, which would see the community and the project’s team meet on a quarterly basis, was discussed during a forum hosted by the Southbank3006 residents’ group on July 31 that heard how the development would integrate with and have impact on the community.
Speaking at the forum, which was attended by more than 80 people, were the two agencies leading the Arts Precinct’s redevelopment, including Hannah Clement, group head of civic infrastructure at Development Victoria; and Katrina Sedgwick, the chief executive of the Melbourne Arts Precinct Corporation (MAP Co), an entity created by the state government to drive the vision for Australia’s largest ever cultural infrastructure project.
While questions from the audience centred around the timing of construction, traffic management, and noise, a key concern raised was whether residents and businesses would be actively involved in consultation – an initiative they felt would provide “a much more prescient way of getting information rather than us being provided with information”.
The need for the community to have a greater say in the delivery of the project was raised by Southbank3006’s secretary Trisha Avery, which drew applause from the gallery. Ms Sedgwick welcomed the proposal, saying it was a “terrific idea” as “transparency and conversation are critical”.
“I think meeting quarterly is a really sensible idea and we’ll take that on notice and work through the comms team about how we could structure that most effectively,” she said.
MAP Co will also work closely with traditional owner groups, precinct partners, including Arts Centre Melbourne, NGV, resident organisations and tenants, and the broader creative community.
The meeting, held at the Holiday Inn Express on City Rd, also heard about the vision of the new gardens across 18,000 square metres of new public parklands. A question was asked as to how it would be different as the community wasn’t “overly-fond with what we have already”, referring to existing steel bench seating.
Residents also made it clear that they did not want the project to be a letdown like the Southbank Boulevard greening project which was “taking forever”.
But the project leaders at the forum said not only was it doing “everything we can” to finish on time in 2028, but also assured the new gardens would be “exquisite” with concept plans being “important to share and get community input and feedback”.
“It will be beautiful but also hopefully engaging and ever-changing which is the intention, which is really exciting,” Ms Clement said.
“I know we’ve got some really exciting international experts involved but also working really closely with the Royal Botanic Gardens.”
Another concern raised was that Kavanagh St residents would be confronted with “a giant brick wall” and if anything could be done to “change that look”.
Ms Sedgwick said Kavanagh St and neighbouring laneways were important and “and the benefit they can get if that side of the building is activated and beautiful”.
“The benefits of it being a triangular site and making sure all aspects of that triangle and all entrances, exits to that triangle have an energy and help activate the spaces around them,” she said.
“I think in the next phases of the design I think you will see a real development in terms of that side of the building.”
Another resident asked about the long-term plan for the former Testing Grounds site, to which Ms Sedgwick replied, “not at this stage”, adding “there are dreams and visions and longings for what could be in that space but that is yet to be determined”.
“Obviously it is a prime piece of space with an incredible adjacency to this new investment.”
One resident mentioned Testing Grounds had some “beautiful trees” that they did not want lost, but if they were to be removed, that they would be relocated within the precinct.
The forum also heard that Development Victoria, which delivered the State Library refurbishment and Melbourne Park developments, was “committed to communicating to residents and other stakeholders on project disruptions throughout the life of the project” which would also be minimised “as far as possible”.
Ms Clement said the Arts Precinct would remain open throughout construction; however, it would look at ways to activate the area, so it didn’t feel “blocked off”.
This included working with artists and “creatively linking the public to be able to see and experience what we’re actually doing technically behind the hoarding”.
Southbank3006 vice president Jannine Pattison said it was pleasing to see many engaged residents attend the forum, which attracted such strong interest that the function room had to be changed to accommodate more attendees.
“While the session went a long way to alleviate residents’ concerns, there was no doubt that frequent community consultation and communication is what is needed throughout the process of development,” she said.
“As stated by Katrina Sedgwick, ‘this is the beginning of the conversation’. We can only hold them to their word at this stage, but you can be assured Southbank3006 will be acting as a facilitator and holding additional community forums as the development progresses.”
City of Melbourne councillor Jamal Hakim, who attended the forum, said he had heard “loud and clear” that “open space and traffic conditions are critical in Southbank that need better communication and more action”.
“I can’t wait to see the accessible and wonderful vision come to life. We need to be creative to create open space in Southbank and this will certainly play a big part in that.”
Another attendee and Member for Southern Metropolitan Region Nina Taylor said as a local resident and long-time arts admirer, it was “pleasing to see such positive early consultation on the project that will transform the Melbourne Arts Precinct”.
“A packed house of Southbank3006 members eager to be part of the process, bodes well for great outcomes for the local area.”
The forum comes as early works for the project officially kicked-off project in July starting with the Art Centre’s refurbishment which would continue with the demolition of the CUB building at 77 Southbank Boulevard (beginning early 2023) and preparing for the build of The Fox: NGV Contemporary (starting 2024) – with the latter not exceeding 60 metres in height, the forum was told.
Several public art sculptures around the Theatres Building have been removed to keep them safe during the work, which will be displayed in temporary homes at other public locations. An area will also be cleared behind the Theatres Building and towards Hamer Hall of plants, trees, landscaping, and paved outdoor areas.
Sturt St will have partial and intermittent closures from the end of July to December this year while intermittent temporary road closures will affect Kavanagh St.
However, future proposed changes would see Sturt St closed between City Rd and Southbank Blvd. Motorists will continue to have access to the Arts Centre car park via Kavanagh St and Southbank Blvd.
The State Theatre will close for auditorium and stage house refurbishment in 2024 and reopen in December 2026.
To keep the Arts Centre Melbourne open to the public throughout the project, utilities and services will be moved temporarily above ground while site investigations and ground testing are undertaken.
Early works on Arts Centre Melbourne will be completed in early 2023, after which main works will begin.
Project representatives will be on the ground to hear from residents and the community.
“The Melbourne Arts Precinct has one of the highest concentrations of arts, cultural and creative organisations in the world, and this multidimensional project will establish the precinct as one of the world’s leading creative and cultural attractions,” Ms Sedgwick said.
Caption: Katrina Sedgwick, the chief executive of the Melbourne Arts Precinct Corporation (MAP Co), speaks to Southbank residents about the Melbourne Arts Precinct transformation.