ANDREW SULLIVAN is deputy mayor of Fremantle council. With electors raising questions about the Kings Square redevelopment (now Walyalup) he looks back at how we got there and what it will mean with the looming opening. It’s a bit of a long look, so this is Episode 1.
WITH the Walyalup Civic Centre nearing completion, the new playground looking great and the public spaces around the newly renamed Walyalup Koort taking shape, it’s timely to go back and revisit the reasons why all of this was necessary in the first place.
Fremantle council recognised back in 2003 the need to deal with significant structural and maintenance threats associated with our old administration building.
The council under then mayor Peter Tagliaferri moved a motion to investigate alternatives to what was described in the council report as a building which was “outdated and incurred considerable annual maintenance costs”. The report also stated, “a considerable amount of money would be required to upgrade and refurbish the building to current acceptable standards”.
The following year the council established a Civic Area Redevelopment Project to look at a precinct-wide development of Kings Square, including the city-owned buildings and the privately-owned Myer building.
In 2011 the council revisited these earlier plans with a fresh new approach to the Kings Square precinct to kick-start Fremantle’s much-needed revitalisation.
Around that time, Fremantle’s local economy was in decline and our inner-city population had stagnated. This was reinforced when Myer closed in 2013, one of many large format retailers to leave Fremantle during this period.
The anchor tenant in the Queensgate complex, Hoyts Cinemas, advised in 2012 that it would not renew its lease, and no other cinema chain could be found to take it over. The Queensgate building had a failing roof and air conditioners which required significant funds to repair. The city considered an option to renovate the cinemas into offices so they could be re-purposed for lease, but the cost of doing this was $14 million.
Action was needed to reverse Fremantle’s economic malaise and attract more people to live and work here. In 2010, council led by mayor Brad Pettitt recognised that most of Perth’s leading developers had become disenfranchised with Fremantle as a place to invest. The council sought to turn that negativity around by developing new economic development and planning strategies and promoting a new vision to the development industry.
The rejuvenation of Kings Square was at the heart of the city’s plan to do just that.
Following an innovative “citizens jury”, the Kings Square Urban Design Strategy was adopted by the council in June 2012. These community-inspired design guidelines, along with a comprehensive business plan, were then used as the brief for the Kings Square architectural design competition.
The competition was promoted nationally and internationally in 2013 and conducted in accordance with the Australian Institute of Architects competition guidelines. It attracted more than 60 entries from around the world. The final winning design by Fremantle-based Kerry Hill Architects, along with other entries, formed part of a public exhibition in 2014.
The council then worked to further refine the design, put our finances in order to fund the project and entered into a commercial agreement with Sirona Capital to leverage their $220 million investment to redevelop the Myer and Queensgate sites as part of the broader renewal of Kings Square.
It’s a fact that Sirona would not have invested in the Kings Square Renewal project unless the City also committed to building new civic and community facilities in the square. The council had to put skin in the game to kick-start the necessary investment in Fremantle.
The old administration building suffered from concrete cancer, had significant asbestos contamination and did not meet legal disability access requirements.
A report prepared in 2012 showed the city would have to spend $28 million on the old building just to meet the minimum required standards, and more than $50 million to properly refurbish it and add new extensions.
It was cheaper to knock it down and build a new, better building.
The improved energy efficiency and reduced maintenance costs on the new building will also deliver significant ongoing operational savings.
The original budget to construct the Walyalup Civic Centre was $41.3 million. That was increased to $42.6 million to allow for the installation of new fire protection measures and other improvements in the Town Hall that were not part of the original scope.
Despite the construction delays and other impacts due to Covid-19 and the collapse of the head contractor Pindan, the project remains on track to deliver on its original objectives.
From the beginning, the construction of the Walyalup Civic Centre has been funded using a combination of existing savings, asset sales and low-interest loans. Because of prudent financial planning it does not rely on increases in rates.
The 10-year financial plan adopted in 2015 showed the city would deliver long-term benefit from this essential, “once in a generation” investment, and the knock-on developments it would generate.
• To be continued