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The record shows that ‘during extensive discussions with the applicant’s design team and the State Heritage Branch, it was ascertained that considerable effort had been directed toward the development of a proposal which would permit the retention of the former banking chamber. Many alternatives had been conceived and tested, but for a variety of reasons, were not viable’.14 No NGO heritage consultant in favour of retaining the banking chamber was asked to attend the meetings. The manager of the State Heritage Branch, acting with delegated authority of the Minister, advised that the development should be approved and did not object to the destruction of a heritage building. Thus, the case for the State Bank Centre was made.
ACC File 2997/0044 doc. 5(16), letter to Acting Chief Planner, 20 March 1986.
Case Studies in Heritage Politics: Major Projects During the course of negotiations, the proponent amended the plan to re-establish the scale and special qualities of the chamber in the form of a Grand Lobby, thus ‘enhancing’ the chamber. The lobby would contain lifts to the office tower and some columns, so it would no longer have the open space form of the bank chamber.
ACC seemed impressed by this amendment, or at least by the term ‘Grand Lobby’, particularly with the offer by the proponent to remove the chamber’s pressed metal ceiling and mount it in the ceiling of the new lobby. Unfortunately, the proponent later advised ACC that it was impractical, both physically and economically, to remove all the ceiling panels of the existing bank chamber and reinstate them onto a lightweight, fire-resistant frame for installation in the new lobby. The solution was to recast the panels from moulds made from the original and create a replica ceiling.
In their view, this solution would comply with the spirit of the proposal.
An issue of concern to ACC was whether a precedent would be set if it approved the partial demolition of a building on the heritage register, in contravention of principle 34 of the City of Adelaide Plan. Solicitors for the bank allayed these concerns, citing Judge Roder’s decision in the Kingsmead case15 and saying, ‘If each case is properly considered “on balance” and on “the evidence” before the planning authority, it is extremely difficult to see, as a matter of fact and law, that any particular “PRECEDENT” is established which could in any way be binding or embarrass the Planning Authority in future decisions’.16 Reassured on the matter of precedent, even though it was advice from the bank’s solicitors and not their own, ACC was prepared to recommend to the CAPC that the project be approved.
In recommending approval of the project, the council justified a considerable bonus plot ratio of 14,200 square metres on the grounds that the heritage buildings in King William St and the entry foyer of the Commonwealth Bank building would be retained and the grand lobby would be created where the heritage banking chamber stood. The logic of being granted a bonus for destroying a heritage place escaped an AHA member, who wrote ironically in its newsletter: ‘Oh, by the way, the tower was allowed to be 11 floors taller because the project is being so good to our heritage.
That makes it 30 storeys high, plus the parametal roof and spire’.17 In April, in a Borthwick v City of Adelaide, (1985) 18 APA 435. In that case, Judge Roder ruled against the plaintiff and in favour of retaining Kingsmead, which was heritage listed.
ACC File 2997/0044, Doc. 5/57, letter from Ward & Partners to Acting City Planner 20 March 1986.
Aurora newsletter, May 1986, p.1.
Heritage Politics in Adelaide remarkably swift decision the CAPC concurred with ACC’s recommendation to grant approval to the proposal.
Adelaide now has an unsuitable building in one of its finest heritage streetscapes.
State Bank Royal Commissioner SJ Jacobs reported with hindsight that the project turned out to be a commercial failure, if not a disaster. Journalist Chris Kenny was more scathing in his summary of ‘the State Bank centre — the pretentious landmark that not only burdened the state with a cost blow-out, but ridiculously contributed to the glut of office space that helped to undermine some of the bank’s loans’.18 REMM-Myer Project The REMM-Myer project was first proposed in 1987 as a commercial venture comprising retail and office buildings and associated car parking in Rundle Mall, Stephens Place and North Terrace. It became the largest and most consequential risk undertaken by the State Bank and had the strong backing of Premier Bannon.
The development was proposed in two stages, first as a retail complex occupying the site of the Myer Department Store in Rundle Mall and extending to North Terrace for office development. Originally two heritage-listed buildings were to be gutted, with only their facades in North Terrace remaining, then two more were added later to enable the widening of Stephens Place to improve car park access, a major concern of ACC. The Rundle Mall façade was also amended. Heritage activists and unionists opposed the project because a department store building of major historic significance to the character of Rundle Mall would be demolished and heritage buildings would be gutted, contravening sections of the City of Adelaide (Development Control) Act (1976), the City of Adelaide Plan and the SA Heritage Act (1978). There was apprehension about economic issues as well, particularly as the development progressed, but the State Treasurer ignored all of these concerns.
ACC breached its parking policy in August after REMM argued persuasively that Myer must have parking on site to compete with two other department stores in Rundle Mall, which had their own car parks. Furthermore, ACC was not troubled about gutting the heritage buildings. Its minutes record the view that the image of the heritage buildings in North Terrace was most important, and the majority of members favoured retaining only their facades, even though the heritage listings meant the entirety of the buildings. The manager of the State Heritage Branch, as the Minister’s delegate, had advised the City Planner that he recommended approval of the project, Chris Kenny, State of Denial (Kent Town: Wakefield Press, 1993), p.72.
Case Studies in Heritage Politics: Major Projects on the conditions that the office tower atop Shell House and Goldsbrough House be redesigned and set back and that the lift arrangement in Shell House be maintained.
ACC then approved the development, subject to the concurrence of the CAPC, noting that the facades of the North Terrace heritage buildings would be retained and the Rundle Mall building demolished. The extraordinary advice of the manager of the State Heritage Branch that two heritage-listed buildings should be gutted, without comment from the SAHC, was combined with the willingness of ACC to disregard principles of the City of Adelaide Plan and its own heritage register, as well as desired future character statements for the Beehive Corner and Rundle Mall precincts. As with the State Bank Centre, these government bodies demonstrated that heritage protection was tenuous when a developer proposed a major project on the site of heritage buildings.
In approving the project, ACC granted the maximum plot ratio for the site of 23,370 square metres above the standard bonus plot ratio. The grounds for this generosity were the huge scale of the development (not normally a criterion for a bonus), the pedestrian links to streets through the buildings, leisure and entertainment facilities, space water fountains in the atrium, landscaping and sculpture, heritage conservation and pedestrian cover over footpaths. The inclusion of heritage conservation as a ground for granting the maximum plot ratio must surely have been ironic.
Activists first objected to the demolition of the Myer Department Store, a conglomerate of buildings in Rundle Mall. The older neo-classical portion was designed by prominent architect Edmund Wright in 1882 for Adelaide’s largest drapery, J. Marshall & Co., and was extended in 1908 to Stephens Place. The Myer group took over the Marshall store to create the Myer Emporium in 1928.
When ACC considered the REMM proposal, AHA called for retention of the Myer building on the ground that the City of Adelaide Plan provided that ‘historic and architecturally interesting facades should be preserved wherever possible’ in the Rundle Mall Precinct. AHA spokesman Gerry Patitsas wrote, ‘There is no evidence that it is not possible to preserve the Myer frontage’.19 He asserted in an interview that the façade could be retained with a new building inside: such an approach would ‘ease the trauma of its four- to five-year construction on Rundle Mall’.20 ACC minutes, 7 September 1987, item 8.4 report of PEC meeting of 31 August 1987, item 5, p.434, Attachment O.
Sunday Mail, 6 September 1987, p.17. Marcus Beresford of the Conservation Council of SA supported Patitsas’ view in another article on the same page.
Heritage Politics in Adelaide ACC minutes described the new façade as echoing the composition and height of the existing façade and reinforcing the human scale of Rundle Mall. In this, as in so many other cases, AHA wondered why an imitation was acceptable when the developers could modify and retain the original building.
The AHA gained the support of some building unions willing to impose a green ban on the Myer building. The most outspoken was Ben Carslake of the Building Workers’ Industrial Union and Plasterers’ Federation of SA, who said that the façade of the Rundle Mall Myer building was unique and that the development should retain it. Some unions supported him but others were against a ban because the building was not heritage listed. Among the latter were the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners and the important Australian Building Construction Workers Federation, whose state secretary, Ron Owens, said the redevelopment was vital to the state’s economy and would provide up to 300 jobs for his membership. In November 1987, the Building Trades Federation, which represented all state building unions, resolved to ban demolition of any part of the heritage-listed buildings in North Terrace. It also called on ACC to conduct a poll to determine whether the public wanted the Myer façade retained, a move initiated by Ben Carslake. ACC did not conduct a poll, and the building was demolished. The architect described a new design for the Myer Centre in late 1987 as ‘a glass and steel cathedral-like building’, suggesting a shrine to capitalism.
Andrew Cawthorne of AHA regarded it as ‘a bland, mostly glass, prefabricated structure more appropriate to a suburban shopping mall than to the city’s premier shopping district’, [to replace] ‘the only remaining Victorian/Edwardian façade of such a magnitude, rich in detail and contributing significantly to the character of Rundle Mall’.21 In late October 1987, AHA set up an information picket in front of the North Terrace side of the project in an effort to demonstrate public support for protection of the heritage-listed buildings. A petition with 2,150 signatures collected in nine hours at the picket asked the CAPC not to approve gutting of the heritage buildings. The National Trust and the CCSA joined the AHA in their protest. At the time, Cawthorne exclaimed that the buildings should be fully retained if the State Heritage Register was to have any meaning: ‘If they are demolished it would mean the register is just a joke’.22 Nevertheless, the CAPC concurred with ACC’s approval of the project, subject to 56 planning conditions. As the chairman of the CAPC, Aurora Newsletter, March 1988, p.1.
Case Studies in Heritage Politics: Major Projects Lord Mayor Condous said there should be some leeway in the planning process when the cost of the development is so high.
The plans were revised in December 1987, when two additional heritage buildings in North Terrace were added to the scheme after their purchase by the REMM Group the previous month. The development also required the gutting of the Verco and Liberal Club, along with the narrowing of the footpaths in Stephens Place to create three lanes for traffic entering and exiting the car park.
The developers shifted the office building with a new clock tower in the plan back from North Terrace and east over the Verco building, where they deemed it obtruded less on the heritage buildings. This yellow tower is visible from many vantage points around Adelaide and stands in sharp contrast to the masonry heritage facades beneath it.
Since the Lord Mayor and others were willing to disregard heritage principles because of the large scale of the REMM project, it is worth looking briefly at the financial issues involved. From the beginning, the REMM group required substantial local finance to undertake the project, having no net worth because of over-commitments in Brisbane. The Bannon government gave the REMM-Myer project its unequivocal support, and the State Bank agreed in July 1988 to be the lead financier, underwriting the project while seeking additional investors. In August, the REMM group told Lord Mayor Condous the project would not be viable without waiver of state and ACC taxes, rates and fees of about $50 million. The Lord Mayor refused because it would set a precedent other city developers would expect, and the matter was dropped. When the SBSA began financing the project, the construction costs were $120 million. They could find no other backers and created no financial syndicate. Costs soared due to industrial disputes and other delays until the total liability to the bank reached $900 million at the completion of the project in 1991.
In 1996, the Myer complex sold for $152 million at a loss of over $750 million, borne by the taxpayers.
In addition to the direct financial loss, the disruption to Rundle Mall during construction of the REMM project resulted in the loss of business to many of its traders. In 1990, Alderman Etherington correctly warned that the huge complex would send traders to the wall during its construction. Three years earlier, the SA Mixed Business Association had expressed concern about a glut of shops in Adelaide as developers rushed to take up new investment opportunities. Indeed, after the Myer Centre opened with many Mall traders succumbing to offers of low rent, the number of vacant shops in Rundle Mall was notable. Councillor Ninio conceded in 1993 that the forecast of a Myer-led boom in the city was mistaken, and in fact, Heritage Politics in Adelaide
the project had caused a loss of customers in the Mall not regained since construction of the Myer Centre.23 ACC minutes, 17 June 1991, agenda item 4, p.89. Cf. Aurora newsletter, February 1993, p.2.
Case Studies in Heritage Politics: Major Projects Workers too bore a financial burden. The state government partly supported the REMM-Myer project because of the number of jobs it would create. While it is true that the project employed many workers, some sub-contractors were not paid, and nor were their workers, as REMM’s balance sheet went into the red.
It is perhaps fitting that the Premier had to resign because of the State Bank’s financial exposure in the REMM-Myer project, given that he encouraged this commercially non-viable project. The precedent of gutting heritage buildings was a major concern to conservationists, who were to witness more heritage vandalism during the building boom of the next few years. The approval processes demonstrated that legislation would rarely protect the built heritage if governments supported a development and that governments were more likely to listen to developers than to conservationists when large projects were involved. Local developers had also opposed the project to no avail, according to Karidis, Maras and Walker, who each believed it permanently weakened retailing in the city.24 The REMM project also reinforced the AHA’s contention that councils should insist upon evidence of a developer’s capacity to finance a project before granting approval. In 1987, the SA Mixed Business Association went further by claiming that the only solution to overbuilding would be for the council to demand an economic impact assessment before approving any major shopping complex, which should have been a measure of the viability of office buildings in Adelaide as well. Such a requirement never became part of the planning system.