Site for sore eyes sums up Subi’s soured vi­sion

The West Australian - - OPINION - Gareth Parker

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?

Pic­ture: Bill Hatto

The Su­bi­aco Pav­il­ion Mar­ket site, a prime lo­ca­tion.

Im­ages of a de­vel­op­ment planned for the site of the mar­kets.

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