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Changing perceptions of heritage listings

TRADITIONALLY, property owners have viewed a heritage listing as the kiss-of-death, lamenting lost development opportunities and valuable dollars wasted on restoring a property with so-called heritage value.

But times are changing, as property owners and developers work hand-in-hand with heritage bodies to convert historic properties into successful and unique apartment and office developments.

The redevelopment of the old Boans Warehouse into 50 stylish apartments was such a success for the Mirvac Fini Group that it went in search of similar projects.

The group has since worked with the WA Heritage Council on the transformation of the old Fremantle wool stores into The Primarys apartment development, and the conversion of the Fitzgerald Hotel into the home of Perth firm 303 Advertising.

Rather than hinder development, the heritage listing helped, according to a group spokesman.

“Yes, there are limits as to what can be done to a heritage listed building,” the spokesman said.

“But when it came to marketing and selling (the Boans Warehouse apartments), the heritage element generated a lot of interest.

“I think we will start to see more heritage developments as people see the success stories.”

Other heritage redevelopment success stories include the redevelopment of the Cottesloe Flour Mill to apartments by Citi Fidelity Nominees and the recently opened Apartments 569, previously Wesfarmers offices, redeveloped by Dragon Pty Ltd.

And, despite the recent termination of Mirvac Fini Group’s and Hawaiian Investments’ preferred tenderer status to develop Perth’s Old Treasury Buildings into a five-star luxury hotel, the spokesman said the group’s interest in the project had not waned.

Deputy Premier Eric Ripper terminated the status and reopened project tenders after Mirvac Fini and Hawaiian approached him to discuss difficulties with the project’s viability.

A working party will be established to advise on future options for the landmark.

“That joint venture was terminated principally because … we couldn’t make it work under the original terms of the project,” the spokesman said.

“We needed a considerable housing component to make (it) feasible, which differed from the terms.

“But it is a fantastic site and we would still like to be involved but it just depends on what we would be allowed to use it for.”

One of the keys to a successful heritage development was a close working relationship with the Heritage Council.

Rather than being treated as a peripheral part of the project, a relationship should be established as a matter of course in the same way that due diligence and feasibility studies are carried out, according to the Mirvac spokesman.

WA Heritage Council corporate public relations manager Michelle Finucane agreed and noted that, if property owners and developers took time to consult with the council, they would not find a heritage listing so onerous.

“We really don’t expect that buildings be frozen in time,” Ms Finucane said.

“There is a lot of work done by the council to try and accommodate the owner’s development application.

“I think when the council, developers and owners work together, we end up with a totally unique development which will have more character than many new buildings.”

But there remained a long way to go in convincing property owners that a heritage listing was not a bad thing, Ms Finucane said.

“Often we find a heritage listing is a concern for property owners,” she said.

“In 1999-2000, 36 per cent of owners whose properties were heritage listed in that year objected to the listing.”

Under the 1990 Heritage of Western Australia Act, properties can be protected if they are placed on the Heritage Council’s State Register or listed in a local government’s Municipal Heritage Inventory.

At present there are about 800 places on the State Register with a further 20,000 or so heritage places, yet to be fully assessed, in the council’s database, which has been put together from the local government inventories.

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