In the beginning was the St Kilda Foreshore Urban Design Framework.
The UDF was a thirty-year vision incorporated into the Port Phillip Planning Scheme in 2004. The St Kilda Triangle was envisaged as an entertainment and cultural precinct, with significant public open space. The UDF included 11 specific proposals to implement this promise.
What went wrong?
The State government in the early 2000’s refused to allocate any funding for the Triangle even though it is iconic Crown Land. This forced the Council in 2008 to approve a commercial development of the Triangle to subsidise the expensive restoration of the Palais. However, this betrayed the promises in the UDF. Following an extensive community campaign, this plan was terminated in 2010.
Saving the Palais
The Palais is Australia’s top theatre concert venue and was ranked by Pollstar magazine in 2014 as the 23rd best venue in the world. However in that year the Municipal Building Surveyor was about to close the theatre because of substantial building defects. The Council and the State Government acted. The key person was local MP Martin Foley who responded to a community campaign by persuading the State Government to commit $13.4 million for emergency works after the Council had promised $7.5 million. Subsequently in 2016 the Council awarded a 30-year lease of the Palais to the American conglomerate, Live Nation. While not without controversy, this guaranteed the long-term future of the Palais. Live Nation must undertake $7.3 million in restoration works within the first five years and contribute nearly $60 million over the life of the lease.
The result is that today, unlike in 2008, there is no need for a commercial development of the Triangle to subsidise the restoration of the Palais.
The Masterplan for the Triangle
Council has engaged in extensive consultation on a new Masterplan. This began with St Kilda Triangle 2012 (the ‘Orange’ document) where the community strongly endorsed the vision in the UDF for the Triangle. However, that consultation did not cover the specific development envelopes drafted by Council officers. The Community Alliance of Port Phillip and unChain Port Phillip, the two community groups active in the Triangle campaign, submitted detailed critiques of these envelopes. Council therefore engaged in a further round of community consultation that resulted in the adoption of the current Masterplan in 2016 (the ‘Purple’ document).
The Masterplan implements the vision in the UDF and its 11 Proposals. It provides nearly 20,000 square metres of landscaped open space. This includes a viewing platform extension to Upper Esplanade (Proposal 5) underneath which there are cultural facilities (P.5) and 350 car spaces (P.2). There is a new building at the back of the Palais including an hotel and a cultural facility (P.1). There is a new forecourt to the Palais (P.3), a building beside the Palais providing for cultural and entertainment uses (P.6), landscaping for Cavell St (P.8), and protection of views (P. 10). In total the Masterplan envisages over 14,000 square metres of cultural institutions.
The major issue is who will pay? The Masterplan raised the possibility of a third gallery space for the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). There are many other possibilities. For example in South Australia the Liberal Party has proposed an Aboriginal gallery and hotel development at the old Royal Adelaide Hospital site at a cost of ‘upwards of half-a-billion dollars’.
The Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI): A Catalyst?
LAGI is a biennial competition that brings sustainability, public art and land form together. Previous host cities were Dubai (2010), New York (2012), Copenhagen (2014) and Santa Monica (2016). Typically LAGI attracts thousands of participants from around the world including artists, architects, landscape architects, engineers, and designers. The State Government and the Council succeeded in getting the 2018 LAGI competition at the Triangle with a focus on adding art and renewable energy to the Masterplan.
Submissions are made in May followed by a peoples’ choice award and a final jury decision in November 2018. LAGI invites competitors to think beyond the boundaries of the Triangle. One possibility is to deck over Jacka Boulevard. In the past local experts Marcus O’Reilly and John Parkinson have put forward detailed proposals for this.
Decking over Jacka Boulevard would create an artistic, landscaped park linking the foreshore, Acland Street and Fitzroy Street. There are very few other places around the bay that have this potential for a new coastal parkland.
Today roads and parking dominate the St Kilda foreshore. The original 1906 Catani design for the slopes never envisaged a major arterial road like Jacka Boulevard. A Council study in 2016 showed the Boulevard carries approximately 40,000 cars each day. This has turned the foreshore precinct, Acland Street and Fitzroy Street into three isolated locations with little connectivity. Both streets are in desperate need of renewal.
Decking over Jacka Boulevard would maximise St Kilda’s location by the sea, create new jobs and make St Kilda a major attraction. It would also remove congestion points on the arterial road, reduce pedestrian conflicts, reduce emissions and improve tram safety.
This proposal would cost only about the amount of money required for the removal of two level crossings. The UK government has done extensive analysis of the benefits of such projects. A ‘neighbourhood renewal’ project like this will typically provide a Benefit Cost Ratio of 3.0 (See ‘Valuing the benefits of regeneration: economics paper 7, Volume 1: final report’ p. 15). This means that for every $1 spent by the government, there is a return of $3. This is significantly better than the returns on removal of level crossings or construction of new freeways.
Submissions to past LAGI competitions have been beautiful but impractical. However, there is a possibility that this year’s competition will throw up ideas for the Triangle that the Council, the State Government and the community can implement. One possibility is to take up the opportunity for the renewal of the St Kilda precinct by decking over Jacka Boulevard and attracting significant cultural institutions to the St Kilda Triangle. What new proposals will the LAGI competition produce?
As Woody Allen once said ‘I ran into Isosceles. He has a great idea for a new triangle’.
Peter Holland, President, and Serge Thomann, Treasurer, unChain Port Phillip.