Palace Theatre redevelopment: Squat! But is it hot to trot?

Another chapter today in the evolving public interest story that has become the proposed Palace Theatre demolition and replacement with Australia's first W Hotel at 20-31 Bourke Street. Melbourne City Council have this week published plans for Bates Smart's third revision of the development scheme which sees a shortened, dare I say tubby hotel tower sans its apartment compliment included within the initial planning application.

As has been reported through the media, the proposal has been essentially cut in half and now tills in at 50.65 metres high with 11,047sq.m of net floor space. 193 rooms are slated for the 12 hotel floors with the three remaining floors configured to include a restaurant, pool, gym, outdoor terrace, lounge and function facilities.

Naturally the development team have prepared the planning documents to favour their argument; proponents aside, here are some telling statistics for and against the Palace Theatre development.

Save the Palace Theatre

  • Facebook page developed to oppose the development with just under 35,000 likes.
  • 27,955 have signed an online petition rejecting the loss of the existing venue via
  • Demolition of the 5th bay of the adjoining Victorian three level terrace will remain as per revised plans.
  • Neither the Palace Theatre nor 32-38 Bourke Street are included in the Victorian Heritage Register.

The economic case

Deloitte Access Economics have quantified the expected benefits of a realised W Hotel to the Victorian economy as follows:

  • Direct capital investment in Melbourne of approximately $160 million.
  • Construction employment generation equivalent to 82 full time equivalent jobs over the construction phase of the project.
  • The development will generate between $21M and $58M annually in Gross Regional Product.
  • Ongoing employment generation which will be in the range of 230 – 588 full time equivalent jobs, and tourism expenditure.
  • Cumulatively, the proposed W Hotel and residential development is estimated to contribute up to $375 million in Gross State Product over the first 15 years of operation.

The crux of the matter

An excerpt from the Urbis planning report:

It is noted that a recent planning permit application for a hotel and residential apartments was made to the Minister for Planning and not supported due to a number of concerns principally relating to the height of the proposal, in light of the lower scale of the Bourke Hill precinct. The City of Melbourne’s formal position on the application recognised the value and benefit that the proposed W Hotel use would bring to the city, but was unsupportive of the scale of the built form.

Hence, this revised proposal has been prepared to address the key concerns. In particular the changes to the height of the development ensure that shadows cast to the Parliamentary precinct are significantly reduced, and that the view over the city from the steps of Parliament is not substantially altered.


Prudence suggests that site proponent Jinshan Investments wouldn't purchase and consequently enter the planning process if they weren't confident of their ability to develop the site and ultimately turn a profit. This coupled with the above excerpt suggests that given the scheme has been halved in height, chances of approval may have increased considerably.

Machinations aside the merits of a design simply lopped in half need to be questioned for such a prime site within close proximity to the Parliament. While the facade is well articulated, the buildings bulk and rather basic form sit uncomfortably within the surrounding streetscape. While I don't particularly like the current design, I have a suspicion it has taken great strides toward approval - much to the disappointment of many.

1 comment

Bilby's picture

The proposed demolition of the fifth bay of the rare and very important historic Victorian triple storey commercial building next door is an insane / stupid / backward / uneducated / destructive / uncultured / foolish / mindless / uncultured / idiotic idea for one of Melbourne's most important streetscapes. Should I say more? And then of course there's the historic Palace Theatre itself ...

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