Art fudge for mall?

MONEY set aside for artworks could instead be used to reinstate verandahs in the High Street Mall.

Fremantle council’s planning committee this week gave Silverleaf Investments conditional approval to progress with its $10 million redevelopment of the Manning Buildings, which includes a proposed tavern.

One of the conditions proposed by the council’s planning officers hinted at bringing back verandahs.

Councillor Jenny Archibald took the hint further, suggesting Silverleaf owner Gerard O’Brien could divert the $100,000 normally set aside for artworks towards reinstating them.

Cr Archibald labelled the developer’s last artistic contribution from his Atwell Arcade development, three kinetic poles in the mall, a waste of time and money and she’d rather see it go towards some shade for shoppers.

The council’s percent for art policy allows money to be diverted towards heritage projects, but only for public buildings or in the public realm. Here’s where council staff got their homework; they’ll have to determine whether the verandahs, attached to Mr O’Brien’s buildings but stretching out over the mall, are public or private.

In the 1990s the council was so keen to get verandahs back it commissioned its own set of plans for them. Among the ornate verandahs was a rare two-storey open balcony which once graced the building now home to Norm Wrightson Hairway.

Fremantle Society president John Dowson supported spending the art money on verandahs, but otherwise was unimpressed by the development, saying the more he looked, the worse it got.

“Unfortunately, the proposal is brutal in its treatment of heritage elements such as the rear structures, dismissive of the social history of shops like Norm Wrightson’s Hairdresser, who business has existed in the same shop since 1933…and does not seek to restore and reuse the former existing Majestic Theatre still in existence there,” Mr Dowson wrote in the society’s submission to council.

Mr Dowson’s submission also criticised the development’s treatment of shopfronts, saying an opportunity to restore many had been lost. He says a 100-year-old wall at the rear of Shepherd’s Newsagency was also under threat.

But Fremantle deputy mayor Ingrid Waltham, who’s on the planning committee, said she was confident the conditions recommended by staff would help deliver the best heritage outcomes.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” she said.

Cr Waltham said she’s a bit torn by the verandah issue, saying she loves to see heritage protected, but doesn’t believe it should be imposed if it affected a building’s functionality.

“There’s no use having a city full of beautiful, but empty buildings.” The committee’s recommendation will now go before the state-controlled JDAP for final approval.

by STEVE GRANT

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