Forum Theatre redevelopment includes 32-storey tower
December 22, 2013
>> The Forum Theatre is set to be completely refurbished as part of a $70 million development bid that promises to return the iconic venue to its heyday.
The ambitious plans will also see a 32-storey boutique hotel and office complex built behind the Flinders Street property and the creation of a new thoroughfare connecting Russell Street to the street art mecca of Hosier Lane.
The Sunday Age can reveal that the Marriner family, owners of the Forum, Regent, Comedy and Princess theatres, have sought state government permission to overhaul the National Trust-listed building.
The plan is being mooted as a way to secure the future of the Forum, one of the few remaining large-scale live music venues in the city.
The proposal will involve a full renovation of the interior and exterior of the 84-year-old Gothic-Romanesque building, which includes returning heritage features common to its original use as a 1920s-era ''picture palace''.
Among the promised changes are fixing the clock tower, replacing the original sign on the roof, re-creating the entry doors, installing poster boxes and repairing the copper domes.
It is believed to be the first major refurbishment for the ageing complex since it was bought by David Marriner in 1996 and converted from a religious revival meeting centre into a live music and cabaret venue.
>> The proposed hotel and offices would be built behind the Forum on the site of an empty building that was formerly used by the Melbourne Theatre Company.
The tower, which will violate the area's height restrictions, features a glass curtain that flows down to meet the roof at the rear of the Forum in what its designer says will be a ''sympathetic'' connection to the theatre.
''The new building is designed to respect the Forum and will provide a curtain backdrop wall framing that building,'' said Bill Kusznirczuk of Clement-Stone Town Planners, who filed the planning application on behalf of the Marriner family.
The plan also calls for the creation of a new 50-metre thoroughfare connecting Russell Street to Hosier Lane, a graffitied bar and restaurant precinct that has become one of the city's most recognised landmarks.
But the plans are likely to be scrutinised by heritage protection advocates following a string of proposals that have seen landmark CBD buildings targeted for redevelopments that violate height restrictions.
Melbourne Heritage Action president Tristan Davies said improvements to the Forum were welcome but the group would reserve judgment about its support or opposition to the project until it had seen the plans.
''Anything that restores the Forum Theatre is great because it needs a lot of work and it will cost a lot of money,'' he said.
''But we'd be concerned that the proposed height of the new building would overwhelm the heritage streetscape in the area as well as dominate Hosier Lane, which has become enormously important to the street art scene in Melbourne.''
The application was filed with the Victorian Department of Planning on Friday and the decision about the proposal will ultimately rest with Planning Minister Matthew Guy.
A move is already under way by another developer to replace the Palace Theatre on Bourke Street with a high-rise hotel and apartment complex in a controversial proposal that was bitterly resisted by the Melbourne City Council. Minister Guy is yet to rule on the application