26/09/2012 - 10:47

New projects can boost heritage

26/09/2012 - 10:47

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Two major office towers in central Perth show that modern developments can co-exist with, and even enhance, the value of heritage properties.

ABOUT TIME: Work has started on restoration of the Cathedral heritage precinct. Photo: Grant Currall

Two major office towers in central Perth show that modern developments can co-exist with, and even enhance, the value of heritage properties.

IN the 1970s, when Perth really was a big country town, one of the popular tourist spots was the R&I Bank building on Barrack Street.

Well, not the building itself, but the small garden out the front, which we were assured was the spot where Mrs Dance famously felled the first tree in the Swan River colony.

Like the tree, the R&I building was also felled, in the interests of creating a heritage precinct.

That was back in the mid 1990s, soon after the bank had changed its name and moved into Bankwest Tower on St Georges Terrace.

Also at that time the State Taxation Office moved out of the Old Treasury Buildings, which were then known as the Central Government Buildings.

Ever since, the site on the corner of the terrace and Barrack Street has been largely dormant, except for the occasional theatre production inside the Old Treasury Buildings.

That is about to change, with property group Mirvac starting work on a 33-level office tower on the site of the old R&I building.

This project is set to rival the recently opened Brookfield Place, perhaps not for its impact on Perth’s skyline but certainly for its influence on Perth’s built heritage.

The Brookfield Place office tower paved the way for the redevelopment of five heritage buildings along St Georges Terrace, including Newspaper House, the WA Trustee building, and the Old Perth Boys’ School building.

Importantly, the redevelopment of these buildings has been done in a manner that opens them up to the public. They have become restaurants, bars and galleries, allowing the people of Perth and visitors to the city to enjoy them, inside and out.

That hasn’t always been the case. The former Palace Hotel, at the foot of Bankwest Tower, was also extensively refurbished when the tower was built; but most Perth residents have never seen the beautiful and expensively restored internal stairwell that was meant to be open to the public.

The Old Treasury development, or Cathedral heritage precinct as it is coming to be known, is proceeding after several false starts.

In 1994, then premier Richard Court announced plans for a major heritage precinct.

Four years later, his government approved a proposal for the private sector to take a long-term lease over the site, conditional on redevelopment of the heritage buildings, which date back to 1874.

In 1999, Fini Group and Hawaiian Investments were named as preferred tenderers, but two years later, and following a change of government, the tender process opened again.

In 2005, a proposal for nine-storey office building was the preferred option, but two years after that yet another tender process commenced.

Finally, in 2010, Premier Colin Barnett was able to announce an agreement that brought together all of the stakeholders in the precinct.

Integral to the process was property developer Adrian Fini, who played a key role in negotiating the plans for an office tower, a boutique six-star hotel in the Old Treasury Buildings, along with demolition of the Law Chambers building and the Playhouse Theatre.

WA Business News has previously extolled the merit of the 2010 agreement, which includes the state government effectively subsidising the redevelopment through an above-market leasing agreement.

With work getting under way, it is worth restating the value of this agreement.

It brings to an end nearly 20 years of waste, during which time some of the city’s finest heritage buildings have been lying unused.

The development will open up not just the Old Treasury Buildings but also the former Land Titles Office, a heritage gem that has been largely hidden from view by the unattractive Law Chambers building.

The area will link a unique collection of heritage buildings, including St Georges Cathedral, St Georges Hall, the Deanery and Perth Town Hall.

With Government House, the Supreme Court and Council House just across the terrace, the wider area will be enhanced for the betterment of Perth.

 

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