Palais Theatre Could Make Way For Another Car Park

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By Daniel Wilson

Port Phillip Council has informed Members of State Parliament that “the Palais is nearing the end of its structural life”. The building has been assessed to have significant issues putting “the theatre at imminent risk of closure”.

Adding to a list of urgent repairs, an inspection of the façade found sections of concrete render, as well as many of the architectural window features, were no longer securely fastened to the building. External scaffolding has been erected around the theatre to protect the public.

Restoration works could have commenced a long time ago. An agreement was struck to develop the ‘Triangle’ site, which included restoration works to the last remaining building there, the Palais.

In addition to the theatre, the site would have gained shopping outlets, restaurants and bars, a Tafe college, an underground car park, and a boutique hotel. But a newly elected Council reneged on the agreement and paid the developer $5 million to walk away.

Critics said it would have been a ‘Chadstone by the sea’. Supporters said it was going to be St Kilda’s answer to Fed Square. Either way, the developer went packing, as did the $20 million committed to funding the restoration of the adjoining Palais.

More than five years on, the Triangle remains an open-air car park. Council has not been able to deliver a plan to improve the site.

Meanwhile, the 87-year-old theatre is in urgent need of several repairs, including resealing the entire exterior of the building.

Council, who manages the building, has not been able to come up with a way to fund its restoration. Instead it has gone begging to State MPs, arguing the Palais has “architectural, historical and cultural significance to the State”.

“An immediate investment of $15 million is required to keep the theatre open in the short term. A further $25 million is required in the medium term to bring the building up to compliance with current standards.”

The operator of the venue is not backing Council on this one. Last month, Palais chief executive Neil Croker told The Age that state government should instead consider extending the lease to his company in return for funding long term renovations.

The Palais is the largest theatre in Australia with a seating capacity of 2896, and an estimated annual patronage of 317,000.

Given its success, it is hard to imagine the Palais could go the same way as the other buildings that once stood on the Triangle site, and become a desolate car park. But until funding is found for the repairs, the Palais’ future looks grim.

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