11/06/2018 - 13:41

Unlocking the city’s heritage potential

11/06/2018 - 13:41

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A resurgence of heritage restoration has started to take shape across the CBD, with a number of initiatives aiming to boost renewal.

Unlocking the city’s heritage potential
Fini Group’s Kyle Jeavons says heritage buildings by their nature pose significant risks, but their architectural, experiential and community value should not be discounted. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Perth’s heritage buildings are increasingly being seen as a valuable add-on component to the city’s high-rise developments and streetscapes. 

And the growing list of renovated heritage spaces suggests that complementary view is set to continue.

Among the most visible revitalisations is of the 1874 State Buildings on St Georges Terrace, which fell into disrepair for almost two decades before reopening in 2016 as a hospitality precinct after an eight-year, $100 million restoration process led by local property developer Fini Group.

The building has since won many design and hospitality accolades, including its COMO The Treasury Hotel being named the world’s second-best hotel.

Heritage Perth executive director Leigh Barrett said it was high-profile buildings like this that helped demonstrate the advantages of revamping heritage assets.

“The challenge is convincing developers that heritage is a good thing and not a hindrance, that it adds value to their development,” Ms Barrett told Business News.

“For a long time heritage wasn’t seen as important to keep, it was easier to knock down the old; the Heritage of WA Act only came into being in 1990.

“Heritage Perth took on the role of advocating and promoting heritage within the City of Perth and introducing people to the stories and value of these heritage buildings.”

The not-for-profit organisation was founded in 2005 and runs a number of educational and interactive initiatives, including a silent disco heritage tour it ran earlier this year in conjunction with Fringe World.

“Over the years there’s been an increase in people’s interest in heritage places,” Ms Barrett said.

“I’m really excited at the level of heritage restoration that’s happening in Perth, and how some of these buildings are being incorporated into modern developments.”

Examples include the recently refurbished Palace Hotel, which adjoins a commercial tower on St Georges Terrace, and the Melbourne Hotel on Milligan Street, which completed a $40 million facelift this year including a contemporary add-on that wraps around the 120-year old structure.

And as part of BGC Development’s Hibernian Place, the 1902 Perth Chest Clinic (also known as Hibernian Hall), reopened as restaurant Garum in April.

There are several more projects under way: the $70 million student accommodation tower will incorporate part of the original frontage of the Wellington Army Surplus Store; a heritage façade will be preserved as part of the $75 million Raine Square redevelopment; and the collection of late 19th century buildings will be retained as part of the $400 million WA Museum project.

Australia Development Capital has earmarked the Old Perth Girl’s School in East Perth for regeneration, with Artrage (the company behind Fringe World) set to activate the space in the meantime, launching its winter cinema program next week.

“These buildings need to be protected so they can tell the story of Perth,” Ms Barrett said.

“There’s heaps of potential; it just takes a little imaginative thinking and commitment.”

Barriers

The emergence of stricter building codes, as well as statutory requirements and compliance, remained the largest barriers to working with heritage buildings, according to Fini Group development director Kyle Jeavons.

“Heritage projects by their nature pose significant risks, which has generally reduced the demand for these properties,” Mr Jeavons told Business News.

“Sometimes you are lucky with the condition of existing fabric and its ability to be cost-effectively reinvigorated and restored.

“Heritage buildings by their very nature have a critical place in the locations they sit within, from an architectural perspective, but equally the significance of use they had within the community.

“These buildings for both reasons cannot be recreated, and we see value in this rarity, albeit they often come with significant constraints.”

The group received a grant of $200,000 from the State Heritage Council for its State Buildings redevelopment, and Mr Jeavons said although this didn’t act as an incentive to commit to the project, it assisted in providing a contingency for unexpected cost pressures.

The revamp of William Street’s Rechabite Hall, built in 1924, is one of 23 projects to receive a state grant this financial year, having received $100,000 to support its transformation into an arts and entertainment complex due to open in 2019.

The building has been empty since 2008, with Happy Heart, a company founded by Fini Group managing director Adrian Fini and Artrage chief executive Marcus Canning, a former 40under40 winner, driving the project.

“You need to either be a bit mad or have an iron will to take on large scale heritage developments – maybe a bit of both – they are a can-of-worms in terms of development challenges, but when done well they are magic and worth the pain,” Mr Canning told Business News

"The special patina and texture of old buildings speaks to their history and it’s a special kind of energy that continues to exude – it just doesn’t exist in new buildings – it’s something that speaks to collective cultural memory across time."

Mr Canning said any long-term empty space, whether a heritage building or not, offered great opportunity for short-term activation.

“Public-private partnerships for large-scale developments and pepper-corn leases for short-term activations are a great way to bring life to buildings that are otherwise dormant," he said. 

“There’s proven ways that the city, state, private owners and developers can work together to make the most of these opportunities.”

The City of Perth's Heritage Incentive Program has issued 122 grants, representing more than $3 million, since inception in 2003.

Last month, it provided $82,750 to the former Salvation Army headquarters on Pier Street for upgrade works, with properties on Queen and William streets, as well as three terraced houses on Goderich Street other 2018 grant recipients.

The council has also recently introduced an adaptive reuse policy, allocating $665,575 over five years to go towards the activation of the upper levels of Piccadilly Arcade.  

Rate concessions are another part of the council’s support package, with owners receiving a 10 per cent discount as long as they agree to maintain their heritage property, with 154 buildings receiving this in 2017.

The city’s Bonus Plot Ratio policy is further inducement for retaining or integrating heritage into a new build, with 21 developments awarded this over the past 15 years.

City of Perth deputy commissioner Gaye McMath said the benefits of heritage restoration included: increased property values, with the King Street heritage area experiencing annual growth of 25 per cent over the past 20 years; offering a drawcard for tourism; and a reduction in construction and demolition waste.

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