Palace Theatre Heritage Assessment Motion Approved

Several sources are reporting that the campaign to see Melbourne’s beloved Palace Theatre recognised by Melbourne City Council as a site of local significance have been boosted. According to the sources, tonight’s council meeting resulted in a 6-5 vote to explore local heritage protection for the Palace Theatre.

Greens councillor Rohan Leppert, who submitted the motion asking councillors to pursue Heritage Victoria’s recommendation that the venue be explored as locally important, tweeted, “Council moves to strengthen heritage protection for the Palace Theatre! My motion just scraped through by 1 vote!”

“The significance of this motion and the ramifications are indescribable,” read a statement by the grassroots group Save The Palace Theatre after Councillor Leppert’s motion was first proposed to the city council late last week. “This will be the first step in council officially acknowledging the significance of the theatre at a local level, thus recognising the independent cultural significance of the Palace Theatre.”

While details at the moment are scant, The Age reporter Aisha Dow tweeted that the “Lord Mayor and team voted against” Councillor Leppert’s motion. The vote went down during a meeting of the Future Melbourne Committee, during which many speakers were heard supporting the heritage motion.

The motion comes amid continuing turmoil for the site’s controversial new developers. As Music Feeds reported last week, plans to build Melbourne’s first W Hotel on the Palace Theatre site, closed since May, appear to have been abandoned, following numerous rejections by Planning Minister Matthew Guy.

Melbourne Heritage Action president Tristan Davies told Fairfax that approving the Palace’s heritage listing “would probably be a nail in the coffin for this development”. “Heritage listing doesn’t mean something has to be protected no matter what,” he added. “But it has to be taken into account.”

UPDATE 08/10/14: A developer is reportedly in discussions with the state government to buy and restore the Palace as a live music venue. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, Music Victoria chief Patrick Donovan made the claim during last night’s Melbourne City Council meeting.

“It could be the white knight,” said Donovan, adding that the company in talks to purchase the Palace had previously restored theatres in the United States and United Kingdom. However, the Fairfax report did not indicate whether the Bourke St venue’s current owners, Jinshan Investments, were involved in the talks.

According to Fairfax, Lord mayor Robert Doyle voted against the motion for heritage assessment because he said it was wrong to “change the goalposts” on the new developers after they’d already submitted an application. He also criticised the Planning Minister’s abrupt enforcement of height limits on the site.

Meanwhile, Cr Stephen Mayne voted in favour the motion, but suggested that Jinshan Investments may need to be compensated at some stage. “At the moment we have a closed derelict building, a very unhappy international investor and no clear pathway back to an operating cultural venue,” he said.

According to Fairfax, the heritage significance assessment of the Palace site is to be completed by November.

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