Argus building to host Melbourne Music Week before long-awaited MIT campus transformation

Alistair WalshNovember 14, 20120 min read

Melbourne Music Week’s secret pop-up music venue has been revealed as the gothic Argus building on the corner of LaTrobe Street and Elizabeth Street.

The 86-year-old building has been in decrepit state for decades. Its first tenant, The Argus daily newspaper, closed in 1956.

The Herald and Weekly Times Group bought the Argus newspaper along with the building in 1957 and later closed the newspaper down and sold the building.

Education entrepreneur and founder of Melbourne Institute of Technology (MIT) Shesh Gale bought the site in 2010. His company, MIT Group Holdings, a holding of Ghale Investments, bought the six-storey building from La Trobe University for a reported $15 million.

In Melbourne the group also own 374-376 Bourke Street, 386-412 William Street, 388-390 Lonsdale Street, 277-279 Flinders Lane (Tomasetti House), 179 Collins Street and 1151-1155 High Street in Armadale. They also own 154-158 Sussex Street in Sydney.

Ghale has the site earmarked as the future flagship campus for MIT, established in 1996.

According to BRW, the Nepalese-born Ghale is worth $269 million and is the 176th richest person in Australia.

The building was constructed in the Beaux Arts style by architecture firm Godfrey & Spowers. It represents a combination of the interwar styles, a stripped classical composition with Beaux-Arts, Chicagoesque and Moderne influences.

Melbourne lord mayor Robert Doyle has labelled the site one of the worst bomb sites in Melbourne.

In July Doyle said it was a building of ''historic significance, but it is deteriorating as we look at it and I want to give them the strong message that we will not tolerate the tactic of allowing a building to deteriorate to a point where you can't do anything with it – we will be saying to them we are putting you on notice now''.

 


 

The six-storey Argus building was built in 1926 and is riddled with asbestos.

La Trobe University bought the site for $8 million in 2004 to use as a campus but sold it after asbestos removal and renovation costs proved too high. The university reportedly spent more than $34 million developing the site.

In 2010, Ghale had indicated he would spend about $50 million on the renovation, which would be completed by the end of 2011. Any evidence of this has yet to be seen.

"We have been working on a number of design options over the last two years which are ready to go ahead and currently considering the option of staged development, which we hope to  finalise in the very near future," a spokesperson for the company told Property Observer.

Prior to La Trobe University's ownership, the building was owned by the Stamoulis family’s Ryssal-Three Pty Ltd, who tried for many years to sell and sell the property.

La Trobe University took legal action against the vendor claiming it was misled over the state of the building. The action was settled out of court.

A large portion of the roof and several floor sections in the 1920s building are missing. Badly cracked concrete exposes rusty iron beams and severe water damage throughout. Much of it will remain off limits, with just the two lower floors to be used.

Melbourne Music Week has taken on a short-term lease for the building to use a festival site. The tenancy was meant to be kept a secret until November 16, the opening day, but details were leaked to The Age.

The tenancy was orchestrated by event entrepreneurs Kevin Karlberg and Starr Guzman of Marksthespot in conjunction with the City of Melbourne.

''Our main theme is reclamation,'' Guzman told The Age.

''We become a living organism in something that has decayed and we bring out the beauty in it.''

The festival will be restricted to the bottom two floors, with most of the building off-limits due to missing roof and floor sections, exposed rust and water damage.

Festival organisers say asbestos has been removed and stress tests allow 400 people upstairs and 800 downstairs once stairs are built.

The festival starts on November 16 with French dance duo Housse de Racket.

Alistair Walsh

Deutsche Welle online reporter
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