Recently news filtered through that Sydney-based AsheMorgan had acquired Harbour Town and the Medibank Ice House Ice complex within Waterfront City from ING Real Estate. The $150m sale of the 40,000sqm centre follows the disposal of the Melbourne Star observation wheel to its Japanese builders and the sale of Waterfront City's only water fronted parcel to MAB who are developing NewQuay Promenade.
These asset disposals seem a clear sign that ING Real Estate are looking to slowly but surely exit the precinct and absolve themselves of any further responsibility within the area. They currently retain ownership (for the time being at least) of the the Costco building, the multi-level car park and an adjacent undeveloped tract of land. The question which must now be posed is - "where to now for the trouble plagued precinct?"
From the moment of its conception, Waterfront City has struggled with an identity crisis of sorts; it's part entertainment precinct and part shopping precinct with no real unifying theme. Bearing that in mind today's piece constitutes the first part of a series of articles looking at ways of improving the look and usability of the precinct.
With the single stretch of water frontage now controlled by MAB (see render below) it would appear an opportune time to reconsider the precinct's name and branding strategy in addition to erasing the negativity associated with the precinct.
Now this is probably best left to the marketing types but let's just go with something like North Dock. I'll be honest I didn't expend a whole lot of mental power in conceiving the name but I think it's not half bad. Feel free to suggest your own.
When entering Harbour Town either after disembarking from a tram or crossing Docklands Drive, visitors to the precinct are confronted with a bland and sterile entry point defined by cheap finishes over what should be a gateway building. Introducing a green wall to soften the harshness of the facade and employing an operable timber screen both for resident privacy and visual interest would do wonders for a comparatively small outlay.
Signage identifying the precinct awaits within the central median strip, with new greenery also helping to remould first impressions for visitors crossing Docklands Drive from NewQuay Promenade.
Over at Victoria Harbour Lend Lease are in the process of upgrading Merchant Street and have enlisted the help of renowned hospitality architects Six Degrees.
"Changing things up is also part of Six Degrees’ approach to the project more broadly. Its aim is to achieve the mixture of venues and shopfronts you would see in any high street in Melbourne or, indeed, in any high street anywhere in the world. “In your usual high street … you’ve got evolution of 100 years – you’ve got all sorts of canopies, verandas, free-standing cantilevers and so on,” says Healy.
“We want to bring in that idea of variety and diversity. This is important at the level of scale. We needed to introduce a finer grain, so we decided to ‘chop’ and make tenancies into two and three … but we are trying to make it somewhat architecturally consistent per tenancy.”
While Merchant Street presents a much smaller challenge than any overhaul of Harbour Town, a similar strategy could be employed incrementally with a variety of architects and designers chosen. The focus on a greater mixture of uses, architecture styles and in particular activating the upper level concourse should be at the forefront when trying to lift/design the current venue out of the doldrums.
The introduction of maritime materials and architecture on the remaining undeveloped roof tops is a possibility - topped with gabled roofs perhaps mimicking the existing Central Pier sheds and similar to what is proposed at Wharf Precinct within Victoria Harbour
Visible from the Melbourne Star and once proposed to house the Docklands Ice Centre atop, the Waterfront City multi-level car park is presently a wasted site. With previous proposals for an apartment complex along it's western elevation yet to see the light of day, I believe it's worth considering some alternative uses for the site, in particular the expansive rooftop.
A perfect place for a park, maybe? And why not throw in a community 'greenhouse' on top as well?
What do you think should be done to improve Waterfront City? Or what would you like to see?
Leave your comments below and stay tuned for part two focusing on the Medibank Ice House and Costco, to follow soon.