VCAT allows Palace Theatre to be demolished, battle to continue?
In a blow to Melbourne’s live music community and heritage supporters, the Victorian Civil And Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) has decided that the Palace Theatre in the city should be demolished and its owner be allowed to build a hotel in its place.
However, supporters of the part-heritage 1912 building insist they will continue the battle to save it. An appeal to the Supreme Court to have an injunction to stop or delay the demolishing has been discussed in the past few days. Building owner Jinshan Investment Group, who bought it in late 2012, filed the year after to break it down for a 30-storey apartment block.
A petition to save the building – which most recently hosted the Metro nightclub and Palace Theatre live music venue – had been signed by 44,000 people. The live music community argued that its 1855-capacity was needed for the Melbourne scene. A UK company which renovates overseas theatres and turns them into dynamic music and cultural hubs has signalled it is open to buying the building and do the same.
City of Melbourne led the fight in the VCAT, with support from Save the Palace group and the National Trust, to prevent Jinshan from going ahead with its demolition plans. Aside from heritage and architectural spokespeople from both sides, also speaking on behalf at VCAT were Tim Rogers, Molly Meldrum, Kate Ceberano and Reg Livermore.
But the VCAT deemed that only a section of the façade, on the outside overlooking Bourke Street, can be preserved. Jinshan Investment Group has been granted a permit to destroy the interior and proceed with the building of a hotel (now reduced to 12-storey), a gym, swimming pool, car park, restaurant and bar in its place.
While the argument rages over the heritage and social significance of the building, the VCAT could only go on official heritage certification. Based on this, the VCAT also found that the keeping the theatre's facade above ground level was "an acceptable response to the heritage values of the precinct" and that last year’s removal by building workers of much of the internal fabric "diminished that legibility".
Supporters of the building say that move by workers to strip much of the interior and cart it away was illegal, as legal proceedings and full heritage calls had begun by then.
Last Friday, the Friends of the Palace group held a rally outside the building and called for City of Melbourne to apply to the Supreme Court for an injunction before the Anzac long weekend.
City of Melbourne has asked for planning and legal opinion if there were grounds for an appeal. Cr. Rohan Leppert, who has been a keen supporter of saving the building, admitted to The Age, "But on the face of it, it's looking more and more difficult to retain it now.”
Save The Palace posted on its Facebook page to 37,000 likes on Friday why it feels the battle is not over: “Earlier this week the Melbourne City Council agreed to release funds to conduct a full heritage review of the Hoddle Grid.
“It would only seem fitting thus to continue their pursuit of saving the Palace Theatre from demolition especially considering they have already acknowledged the building’s heritage significance and social worth. So let’s get behind our Councillors and encourage them to not give up the good fight.”
The Heritage Council of Victoria last week also stated that it was important to acknowledge that the Palace Theatre has a “course or pattern” of hosting entertainment in various stages. a vaudeville hall since the early 1900s, a cinema and live theatre as well as a nightclub and live music venue. It was the only building to do so in so many facets of entertainment, and for that reason had a cultural significance, according to one expert.
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