All about the St Kilda Triangle…

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By Councillor Serge Thomann

The St Kilda Triangle is back in the news. And once again, instead of celebrating what has been achieved, the angle taken was negative and controversial. I think people forget history very easily, so I feel I need to mention a few facts that even some people in the know seem to have forgotten.

Let me first say that I am not going to apologise for the money that the City of Port Phillip has spent on the Triangle in the past 16 years or so. Most of the $8 million was spent on buying out the former developer of the shopping mall that was approved by the former Council in 2008.

The community was united against the proposed 186 shops, supermarket and licenced venues for up to 6000 people on the site. I was elected on the strength of the community objection – 4 of the 5 Councillors who voted for the Triangle were voted out. The new council had a mandate to get rid of the proposal. We engaged in negotiations with the developer and bought him out, paying them $5 million over three years – which was the revenue from the carpark – and a five year lease of the Palais at $5000 per year.

This was made very public at the time and everyone was thrilled.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then but let me express one reason why I think there is still no common agreement on what should happen on the site. The unChain St Kilda campaign that I led back in 2007/2008 was against two fundamental issues: first against a development / over development of the site and secondly, the way this project was developed behind closed doors and excluding the community. When the CITTA proposal was unleashed, everybody was in awe. The rest is history.

Where are we now? After the new Council negotiated a way out in 2009, we engaged widely with the community to see what they wanted. We also aimed to rebuild trust with all and demonstrate that we would engage with the community to develop something that will be accepted and loved. What came out of it was a broad vision, the “orange book” as we call it, The St Kilda Triangle 2012 vision.

In the past year we have conducted numerous workshops to define the parameters, using the previous work as a base. We are now looking at the next steps: developing a business case through an enquiry by co-design principle and engaging with many stakeholders, including State and Federal Governments. All this information is on our website www.stkildatriangle.com. This will take place in the second part of 2015.

It is my personal view that the St Kilda Triangle is a site of not just state significance but national or even international importance. The Palais Theatre is the number one theatre in the country and defines the site. The fact that Council separated the leasing and repair of the Palais from the development of the Triangle has been a wise decision as we have managed to obtain timely funding from the State Government for urgently required repairs.

For the Palais to be sustainable in the future, it is imperative that there is adequate parking for theatre patrons available to maintain the current attractiveness of the venue.

The Triangle used to be a park and it became a carpark. That was 40 years ago … through our workshops, we have developed a cultural charter that indicates very clearly what is expected to happen on the site. We have heard that the community would like most of the site to be an open space.

I believe that a building can sit behind the Palais and a smaller one next to it, as long as it is the right use which is consistent with the vision outlined in the ‘orange book’ We have got Luna Park and the Palais, the Triangle is the third element of the trifecta and I believe what is going to be happen on the site can be our response to a better future so St Kilda remains what it has always been, Melbourne’s playground. We also have a once in a lifetime opportunity to come up with something amazing, linking St Kilda with the foreshore.

I quoted Charles De Gaulle in the past, and I quoted Winston Churchill a couple of weeks ago as we approved the next stages of the SKT. I was at the Whitlam Institute Commemorative Gough Whitlam Oration at the SKTH and heard about the former PM’s sense of ambition and optimism for our country. This reminded me of the Churchill quote: “I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else.”

I am an optimist and as much as I took pleasure in stopping the previous Council approved over development of the site / commercial centre, yes, at a cost, I am much more interested in developing a proposal that will be a fantastic drawcard for St Kilda and Port Phillip and seal our village’s future.

I hope that you will all be part of the next steps, starting with a forum that unChain is organising on 30 April. Check the unChain Facebook page or website for more information. Hope to see you there.

And happy birthday to my friend Mirka Mora whose generosity will never be forgotten by the St Kilda community.

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