Site for sore eyes sums up Subi’s soured vision
Subiaco, just 4km west of Perth’s GPO, replete with stunning Federation architecture, bisected by historic commercial streets, should be one of the jewels in our city’s crown.
It is not, though, and hasn’t been for years.
And while the imminent departure of big-time sporting and entertainment events bound for Burswood is likely to further entrench the malaise for at least the short to medium term — one site is emblematic of the historic village’s decline.
That would be the derelict piece of real estate where Subiaco’s Pavilion Market once operated: a prime location at the corner of two of Perth’s most famous streets.
But rather than a vibrant commercial and community centre, the markets on the 5500sqm block on the corner of Rokeby and Roberts roads, a stone’s throw from a railway station and a drop punt from Subiaco Oval, have been shuttered for a decade. What a dismal outcome. The markets were shut ostensibly so the site could be redeveloped.
Owner Andrew Abercrombie had ambitious plans for a large-scale project of high-rise apartments, retail, commercial and entertainment space.
The concept fit neatly with bipartisan State planning policy that called for densification and housing diversity in strategically important brownfield sites.
It’s hard to imagine a better fit than a site in a commercial hub, next to a train station — where there was a chance to learn from the mistakes of imagination that stunted the Subi Centro development on the northern end of Rokeby Road.
Instead, an intransigent council, influenced by a tiny but vocal minority, fought the scheme rather than facilitate it — and so an entire economic cycle was wasted and an opportunity lost.
The council became fixated on opposing the 16-storey maximum height of part of the development — and that issue dominated broader considerations of overall design merit, new public facilities and vibrancy, expansion of the local population, the achievement of region-wide goals of densification and — as is so often overlooked by local councillors — commercial realities.
Equally, the developer appeared determined to maximise the opportunity on the site, waging a lengthy campaign of rezoning that required the intervention of a plodding State government — a years-long approvals battle that was won while the ultimate war was lost amid souring market conditions.
While the planning approval was eventually secured last year, the developer lost interest and now — as The West’s Commercial Property Editor Helen Shield reported yesterday — it appears a bid to sell the site with approvals intact has stalled.
Shield reported: “One property source said that while approval for the existing plan stands, a buyer-developer wanting to make any change faced the daunting prospect of dealing with a potentially hostile council — a significant disincentive, given the history.”
This is how Subiaco’s elected members have done-in the reputation of their municipality.
Over the years the council has been dragged kicking and screaming to night-time football and other events at Subiaco Oval; has opposed the $200 million hotel redevelopment at the old Ace Cinema site that proceeds only because it was approved by a development assessment panel; and has tried to snuff out the small-bar revolution that has enlivened practically every other of the city’s entertainment precincts.
“There’s something very sad and entrenched in Subiaco,” said Murray Gill, an artist and owner of Juanita’s small bar up on Rokeby Road, three years ago. “You can reinvigorate an area but you do need some co-operation.”
Years later, what’s changed?
The Subiaco Pavilion Market site, a prime location.
Images of a development planned for the site of the markets.