Breeding New Life Into Melbourne’s Landmark Sites

KEW COTTAGES, Kew

Since it was first conceived as a hospital for mentally handicapped children in the mid 1880s, the Kew Cottages site has made headlines for all the wrong reasons.

For a start, the well-heeled locals didn’t want the hospital built. In the early 1970s, they didn’t want it extended. In 1996, after a fire killed nine residents, locals didn’t want it reopened. And in 2003, when it was shut and sold (controversially), they didn’t want it turned into a housing estate.

The State Government, which owned the 27-hectare Kew hospital, cited local dissatisfaction as the reason for selling the site to residential developer Walker Corporation. However, a claim that a $100,000 political donation made to the ALP seven weeks before Walker Corporation won the right to develop the site is being investigated.

A condition of the sale was that 30% of the site – almost nine hectares – be retained as public space. It’s not unusual for the government to impose “development conditions”, such as public space or public housing, when it sells one of its sites to developers.

Walker Corporation renamed the riverside community Main Drive Kew, after the imposing tree-lined boulevard residents use to enter the estate from Princess Street.

The first stage of Main Drive Kew includes 75 individual, architect-designed houses on compact blocks which sold for between $900,000 and $1.2 million.

Stages to be released over the next few years will include high-density townhouses and apartments, possibly rising as high as five levels.

A European-style piazza with retail amenity is also on the cards for part of the site, as is a $3 million recreation centre, which will include a lap and hydrotherapy pool, gymnasium and consultation rooms for visiting health professionals and community activities.

MERCY HOSPITAL, East Melbourne

Australia’s biggest residential developers were stunned when Melbourne-based Salta Properties emerged as the buyer of the former Mercy Hospital for Women site in East Melbourne.

Until it bought the Mercy Hospital wing in 2005, the Salta name was synonymous with building shopping centres, offices and warehouses.

But its offer of almost $50 million in cash, plus the development of a new 120-bed aged-care facility on land nearby, was simply too good for the vendor, the Sisters of Mercy, to pass up.

The Mercy was the birthplace of more than 150,000 Victorians and occupies a choice position overlooking Fitzroy Gardens and the CBD.

Salta Properties chief executive Sam Tarascio said after his company bought the hospital that it had reconfigured a controversial planning permit that allowed for the construction of 220 apartments. “We didn’t think smaller-style investment apartments were right for such a prime site,” said Mr Tarascio. “We really thought it deserved something special and super high-end”.

The new development, known as 150 Clarendon Street – which has completely sold – now includes a mere 82 apartments, each with three-metre-high ceilings, extensive use of stone and marble, and city views.

One-bedroom apartments started at more than $1 million.

Residents also have full use of a gymnasium, sauna, steam room, massage room, basement cellar with function room and a private cinema capable of seating 18. Upper-level apartments have 360-degree views. Surrounding buildings are subject to height restrictions of 17 metres. .

The Mercy site by comparison stands at 52 metres.

NIDDRIE QUARRY, East Keilor

When the local member for Niddrie stormed into Parliament House in 1975 with a large piece of basalt that had exploded through a voter’s house, the Government decided to close the then 33-year-old Niddrie Quarry.

Between 1976 and 1986, two separate studies identified the 47-hectare site, which spreads over two suburbs: East Keilor and Niddrie, as a potential waste disposal site. These plans were never followed through.

In 1996, then Premier Jeff Kennett proposed the quarry be used as a toxic waste dump, a suggestion that cost the Liberals the once-marginal seat at the following election. A waste-disposal site of any kind was vehemently fought by locals who claimed, as well as the obvious environmental effects, a surge in truck traffic would make living in the area unbearable.

The locals won – and in the end VicUrban (the State Government’s development arm) announced plans to redevelop Niddrie Quarry into an 800-unit estate, built around Valley Lake, which is also the project’s name. Refilling the huge hole took three years and a reported 2.5 million cubic metres of soil, making it, at the time, the largest quarry revival in Australia.

Recently, a 560-square-metre block in Valley Lake sold for $500,000. Construction of the first homes started early this year.

TOORONGA VILLAGE, Glen Iris

A landmark for all the wrong reasons, the former Tooronga Village shopping centre in Glen Iris is being developed into a $560-million mixed-use centre including high-rise apartments and flash offices built around a new shopping centre.

The site, on the corner of Toorak and Tooronga roads, is near the borders of Malvern, Hawthorn East and Camberwell – and identified by a large bitumen car park, with a supermarket in the distance.

The site takes in the former Tooronga drive-in and an old brickworks, and is next door to Coles Tooronga head office, known locally as Battleship Galactica.

The Sydney-based developer, Stockland, realised how under-used the Tooronga Village site was when it paid Coles $30 million to buy it in 2004, conditional on council approval, which it received in 2005.

Stockland’s redevelopment will take place in five stages, and include an outdoor piazza surrounded by restaurants and cafes, a day spa and landscaped communal open spaces.

The first stage includes two high-rise residential towers comprising almost 200 apartments, capitalising on the site’s views over the inner south-eastern suburbs to the CBD.

Stockland also recently acquired the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind site in St Kilda Road. It is planning an apartment tower near the northern border of the block, abutting the Chevron complex and Alfred hospital.

ABBOTSFORD’S CUB BREWERY, Abbotsford

It would be the end of an era for the state. But agents say Abbotsford’s massive Carlton & United Brewery would be one of the most contested residential development sites in the country. Speculation that the brewery and associated buildings on the banks of the Yarra in Abbotsford may be sold in coming years is intensifying.

Last year, CUB’s owner, Foster’s Group, pocketed $208 million selling its disused Kent Street brewery in Sydney, after relocating operations to Queensland.

In Melbourne, Foster’s recently made the unusual decision to sell a portfolio of 12 properties surrounding its Abbotsford brewery, including multi-level car parks, warehouses and office buildings, many with Yarra River frontage.

Sydney-based developer Charter Hall, the same group that bought the Channel Nine studios in Bendigo Street, Richmond, acquired the CUB portfolio for $49 million and is said to be planning apartments.

PENTRIDGE PRISON, Coburg

The 34-hectare former Pentridge Prison in Coburg was considered misplaced well before the State Government closed it down. Sharing the same block as two schools, a kindergarten, a church and houses, local agents say apartments and townhouses were always going to be better accepted than the jail.

Private consortium Grandview Square acquired the prison in 1999, with plans to develop it into a medium-density residential village, with some office and retail amenity. However in 2001, Grandview subdivided the site into two lots, now commonly referred to as Pentridge Piazza (north-west corner of Murray Road and Champ Street) and Pentridge Village (south, along Urquhart Street).

The council is working with Sydney-based builder Valad Property Group, the new owners of the Pentridge Piazza, to review the existing largely residential master plan endorsed five years ago. Pentridge Village is more developed, with homes centred around a park in the area formerly occupied by the Jika Jika maximum security division.

WAVERLEY PARK, Mulgrave

It never really made sense as an 80,000-seat football stadium. Twenty-five kilometres from town, nowhere near public transport – and at the centre of Mulgrave’s “rain belt” – Waverley Park earned the name Arctic Park until the AFL eventually sold it in late 2001 to help fund construction of Telstra Dome at Docklands.

Mirvac, synonymous at the time with high-rise apartment projects, paid $100 million for the 80-hectare site, later announcing plans for houses and town houses to be released between 2005 and 2010. In total, 1500 dwellings housing 4000 people will call Waverley Park home.

Resident Paul Cavallo bought into the first stage of the project in 2005. “I tried to register my interest for a house as soon as I heard Mirvac bought the site,” he says. “Given my job as a plasterer, which requires me to work all around Melbourne, Waverley’s location near freeways and at the geographic centre of Melbourne makes it a very convenient place to live.”

Mr Cavallo said access to the city and the beach was straightforward and quick.

He is now selling his near-new three-bedroom house in Suffolk Grove, near Wellington Road, to take a long overseas holiday. He said that on his return next year, the plan is to buy into Waverley Park again.

Barry Plant Real Estate agent Mario Roncisvalli is marketing the property.

He said Waverley Park has integrated well in the eyes of buyers, with values increasing substantially since the first stage of the project was released three years ago.

Mirvac agrees, saying values for its “oval-front” homes have increased almost 30% since they were put on the market in 2005. A new price record was recently set for a terrace home overlooking the park, which sold for $885,000.

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Marc Pallisco

A freelance property analyst and journalist, Marc is a co-founder of realestatesource.com.au.

Marc Pallisco

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