Victorian government turns to private developers to fill Federation Square East “black hole”

Victorian government turns to private developers to fill Federation Square East “black hole”
Victorian government turns to private developers to fill Federation Square East “black hole”

Private developers are being asked to submit proposals for ways to develop the Jolimont rail yards site known as Federation Square East on the north bank of the Yarra, where proposals date back to the 1970s.

The site is bounded by Federation Square to the west, Flinders Street to the north, Batman Avenue to the east and Birrarung Marr to the south and would require the building of a roof over the railway lines that currently take up the majority (2.3 hectares) of the 3.3 hectare site.

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The remaining hectare is currently used for car parking and associated uses.

“The Coalition Government is looking to harness the innovation and creativity of the private sector for proposals to develop this important site,” announced Victorian minister for major projects David Hodgett.

The state government is seeking a proposal for a “viable landmark development” that could result in a similar public-private partnership (PPP) structure that is facilitating the $2.5 billion redevelopment of the Darling Harbour convention centre with Lend Lease leading the project.

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The Victorian government is undertaking a world-wide search for proposals to transform what it calls a “black hole in the city landscape to a mixed-use precinct with a focus on civic functionality and improved connections with its surrounding areas”.

Hodgett acknowledges concerns expressed in the media that the project may prove too costly to ever complete.

A budget of $680 million has been suggested with $450 million coming from the state government.

“The Coalition Government acknowledges that there are challenges to developing this site in terms of cost and construction. We believe that industry is best placed to come up with innovative, value for money solutions.

“The aim is to find out what is possible and how much interest there is in developing the site. We do not have a predetermined outcome in mind.

“The responses provided will determine if there is sufficient appetite from the market and whether any project is viable enough to proceed further,” Hodgett says.

Both sides of state politics have failed to come up with a viable development proposal.

In 1979 Victorian Liberal premier Rupert Hamer announced a $100,000 competition to roof the Jolimont rail yards and bring international attention to the city. The competition committee, chaired by Ron Walker, chose 48 finalists from around 2,300 entries.

The winning designs went on public display in January 1980.

No single winner was chosen, the committee recommending a composite scheme featuring a large tower in a garden setting.

According to a 2001 document prepared by Melbourne historian Andrew Brown-May “critics lampooned the competition as an ill-conceived waste of time and resources, and each of the 48 finalists received a little over $2000 prize money.

“Judging panel member Professor Patrick McCaughey was appalled by the low standard of entries, describing the winners as demonstrations of 'a megalomania that makes the pyramids look like pimples'.”

Submissions included hanging gardens, an underwater gallery, a free-standing escalator, a series of 12 transparent arches, a solar-powered earth beam, a Freedom Bird Park, and a Time Tower.

In 2010, John Brumby’s Labor government came up with a $680 million proposal prepared by architectural firm LAB (designers of the Federation Square fractal building) including a plazas, parklands, schools and hotels built on a platform above the train lines.

The proposal (pictured below) was based on Chicago's Millennium Park on Lake Michigan.

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This proposal was lambasted by former premier Ted Bailleu, who, while in opposition, called it nothing more than a “tiara on top of the car park”.

Submission for the development close on July 18 with submissions to be made to Major Projects Victoria 

Larry Schlesinger

Larry Schlesinger

Larry Schlesinger was a property writer at Property Observer

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