23 January 2017

Have your say on future of Braddon bowls site: developer

| Charlotte
Join the conversation
Nik Bulum at Bonkers. Photo: Charlotte Harper

What would you like to see on the Braddon site that is currently home to the Canberra City Bowling Club? Townhouses or a mixed use development including features like parks, cafes, an outdoor cinema, a pool and food vans?

Property developer and operator of The Hamlet as well as new pop-up ’80s restaurant Bonkers Nik Bulum is keen to find out what RiotACT readers think of his ideas for the site. He has encouraged us to run a poll on the issue and to call for your thoughts via social media and in comments below.

The bowling club. Photo: Charlotte Harper

Mr Bulum’s family company, Bulum Group, bought the site earlier this year with a vision to develop it into a village-style precinct that could contain elements such as a bocce green, communal gardens, a function space, a boutique hotel, underground parking and even a chapel so that Canberrans could hold their wedding ceremonies and receptions on site.

None of these plans are locked in, and responses to this article and its attached poll will form part of Mr Bulum’s consultation with Canberrans on what the development should look like.

The developer has already put our opening questions to attendees at a consultation session on the redevelopment, and was sifting through the results when we met last week. Mr Bulum is working with urban planning and community engagement specialists Elton Consulting to canvas community ideas for the precinct before putting together a development application.

Retaining the site as it is is not an option, though some local residents have indicated they’d prefer that. Mr Bulum says everything is on the table within reason – transforming the space into 100% parkland wouldn’t be feasible for example, as it would send him bankrupt.

The developer’s original vision for the site was for an urban precinct along the lines of The Grounds of Alexandria in Sydney, which features a coffee research and education facility, artisan bakery and a permaculture garden of heirloom vegetables, herbs, fruit and flowers along with a small animal farm (see four photographs immediately below).

The Grounds of Alexandria. Photo: The Grounds website The Grounds of Alexandria. Photo: The Grounds website The Grounds of Alexandria. Photo: The Grounds website The Grounds of Alexandria. Photo: The Grounds website

Having bought a block adjacent to the site upon which to build a house for himself, Mr Bulum has a vested interest in building something that will be unobtrusive for surrounding residents.

“I did have the idea of keeping one of the greens with a movie screen on it, so free movies at night, and you could come, sit down on the lawns like a picnic,” the developer says.

He also considered a spa, a small chapel and a function centre.

“It was all about celebration and resort sort of living, but in a classy, upmarket way, not snobby, where no one can access it,” he says.

“It was the difference to what Lonsdale St has to offer, more the grungy, gritty street, this was meant to be more the nice club.

“Anyway, that was my vision. I’m happy not to go with that if they want it to be townhouses.”

What would you like to see on the site of the bowling club at Braddon?

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The developer is clearly frustrated by the possibility that Braddon residents might prefer a straight housing development.

“What they don’t realise is, I came here to do something different to your normal developer, and activate a space for community, right?” he says.

“But they are interested in me being ‘the greedy developer’ and doing more townhouses and apartments.”

He says if townhouses are the community’s preference, he will come up with designs for a townhouse development and bring that back for their consultation within a few months. If the preference is for a mixed use development, he’ll put together designs for that concept and present these.

“I’ll work with what they want to see,” Mr Bulum says.

If that’s townhouses?

“I’ll go and do more of this creative precinct thing elsewhere,” he says.

Mr Bulum has been criticised over some of his ideas for the project, with some residents believing the concepts were locked in prior to consultation. But the developer explains that sharing his vision was about getting the conversation started.

“When I’m talking to you, if I don’t throw ideas around, what kind of discussion are we going to have?” he says.

In a media interview earlier in the year, Mr Bulum threw up some 30 ideas for the site.

“Obviously thirty things aren’t going to fit here, but they [residents] really latched onto that,” he says.

“They’re like, ‘the greedy developer’s going to come in and he hasn’t even spoken to anybody, he’s just going to do this,’ and I’m like, I don’t even have plans yet.

“You can’t make people happy, though. The other day at the consultation, they came here expecting plans, and I said, ‘But if I had plans, you’d be angry, because it means that I planned it, but this is proof to you, I have not planned anything. I’m still sticking to my words that I’m going to consult you all’.”

Mr Bulum says the situation is crazy.

“You can never, never win,” he says.

“How many developers ask the community to decide the fate of land? None. No one does that. So it’s like I’m giving them a nice opportunity.”

He says friends have criticised him for being so consultative, and for giving start-up businesses cheap rental deals on Lonsdale Street.

“But that’s not me,” he says.

“I do want to do things a little bit differently.

“That’s been the whole way I’ve always done the Traders, the Hamlet, I love that activation.”

He said that when he first began developing in Lonsdale St, he opened a retail outlet so he could chat with patrons and residents.

“I’ve come into an area and I want it to work,” he says.

“This is why when people attack me and try and dirty my name, I get really hurt, because I am completely the opposite.

“A lot of these objections were hurtful.”

Residents who live in the area immediately surrounding the site and in neighbouring suburbs have expressed their concerns about the impact the project will have on the Ainslie Primary School, which is opposite the bowls club, the nearby childcare centre and on the daily lives of residents generally through increased traffic and activity.

They fear their quiet suburb will become akin to Lonsdale Street (which is home to several Bulum Group developments), attracting night drinkers and possibly even drug users.

But the developer says he tries to do things “in the good way”. He says he is anti-drugs and far from wanting to remove trees, is passionate about protecting them.

“If I had a criminal record or had a history with drugs, I get where the rumours [that his plans would attract drug users] can come from, but that’s not the case,” he says.

One resident said during the consultation that she wanted to see neither townhouses or a mixed use development on the site.

Mr Bulum expressed his disappointment at her view.

“You really wanted me to do a consultation, I’ve done it, and I’m looking forward to your feedback and you’re just donkey voting, basically,” he said.

“If you care about this area, put something on there that I can work with.

“Do you really want a derelict site across the road?”

Mr Bulum says the woman ended up suggesting a retirement village for the site, which, given the ageing population, was an idea with potential.

While plans for the development are made, the bowling club members will continue to use the space. They’ll probably move on in late 2017, but Mr Bulum is open to them staying longer if they want to. Several of them were meeting over tea and coffee in the clubhouse during the RiotACT’s visit. Bowls organiser Mike Woolley said the members had a good relationship with Mr Bulum, who is often on site now Bonkers, which he runs with Joelle Bou-Jaoude and Sascha Brodbeck of Brodburger in the old clubhouse, is open.

Eclectic vintage china on the wall at Bonkers. Photo: Charlotte Harper

With a name that is a nod to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (“You’re mad, bonkers, completely off your head. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.”), the restaurant’s arrival has given the old bowls clubhouse a makeover, providing a hip cafe space minus the former poker machines. It features a row of mis-matched chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, vintage china on the walls, a map where visitors can mark the countries they’ve visited around the world and, somewhat controversially, a space plastered with the 78 responses the ACT Government received when Mr Bulum and his fellow restaurateurs applied for a liquor licence for Bonkers.

Mr Bulum with the wall bearing submissions against the liquor licence. Photo: Charlotte Harper

The developer decided to post the responses on the wall in the interest of interaction. Names of those who submitted them had been blacked out by ACT Government staff before they were released to the Bonkers team, and the information was available publicly online in any case, so there was no concern about privacy.

“We put all our bad stuff up there … we were kind of offended so we tried to turn this around,” Mr Bulum said.

‘We thought, you know what, these people have the right to object and make a complaint or put their concerns. We put them up on the wall, now we say to people, ‘If you don’t like that wall, grab a pen and say ‘I find this wall offensive’.’”

Mr Bulum pointed out some specific posts to the RiotACT, including one that suggested Bonkers was likely to attract “a younger and childless demographic” who “research indicated” were likely to “consume large amounts of alcohol” and as a result participate in “risky” activities. “For example they are less likely to show self-control,” the responder wrote.

Mr Bulum has been particularly upset by the childless reference.

“If you’re childless, you’re welcome here,” he says.

Submission re liquor licence for Bonkers. Photo: Charlotte Harper

Asked whether posting the responses on a wall and inviting Bonkers patrons to add their own notes to them with felt tip pens was mocking of the original writers, Mr Bulum says, “We’re the ones who felt mocked.”

The tone of the liquor licence application responses in general was negative, perhaps reflecting the reaction of residents to a street poster campaign in October and November which included the following along with details of how to write to the Commissioner for Fair Trading:

“Our quiet street is going to be turned into a nightmare. A bar called “Bonkers” is coming [sic]. It will be at the bowling club opposite this school… It wants to be licensed from 7am to 1am. There will be mobile food stalls as well, the Hamlet is moving in to the carpark so think drugs!!!

“The noise will be appalling. There will be empty beer bottles and screaming in our quiet streets and no doubt a massive increase in crime! You have until November 5th to complain to stop it.”

Bonkers poster. Photo: Charlotte Harper

Mr Bulum describes the poster and related activity as a “hate campaign”. It was posted on trees in the street in which he will eventually live and currently works, as well as around the neighbouring childcare centre.

“Why am I sitting here getting attacked for caring about Canberra?” Mr Bulum asks.

“Let’s care about Canberra together, and work together.”

Bonkers is open Wednesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner, for breakfast on Saturday and breakfast and high tea on Sunday. Among the ’80s-themed menu items on offer are iced vovo milkshakes and macaroni and cheese pizzas. Families are welcome, Mr Bulum says, pointing to the special menu options for kids.

“The gambling’s out, it’s more child-friendly now,” he says.

“We want to use the old look but make it a bit more fun and quirky.”

Mr Bulum said some people had been scared of the name Bonkers because they thought it meant “bonking”.

“But I explained … they’re two different words … and I said, ‘You do realise it’s in a child’s book, Alice in Wonderland?’

“A name freaked a whole community out, because they thought that it meant insanity and drugs.”

The proprietors of Bonkers have worked the Alice in Wonderland theme in here and there, setting up a large, Mad Hatter’s Tea Party-style table in the centre of the restaurant. Mr Bulum says that in a subtle way, they’re playing up the Wonderland connection given the Queen of Hearts plays on bowling greens.

“We like the name Bonkers, and we’re not going to call it Alice, are we?” he says.

The developer says residents have been relieved when they’ve come to see the restaurant for themselves.

“They said, ‘You should’ve explained it to us’,” Mr Bulum says.

“But what am I going to explain? A word from a children’s book?”

The restaurant will operate for around a year, until the bowlers head out to their new home at Gungahlin Lakes and redevelopment begins.

Among the ideas Mr Bulum has for the redevelopment that will replace Bonkers and the bowls club is underground car-parking to keep traffic issues to a minimum, a pool and a walkway through to connect Farrer St and Elder St.

He has faced criticism for the pool concept, which he says would be the sort of resort-style pool that creates ambience when dining alongside it among leafy surrounds like those of Canberra’s Hyatt Hotel.

“I wasn’t opening Wet & Wild,” he says.

The Bulum Group’s community survey asked participants who would prefer a mixed use development to townhouses to select a favourite option for possible inclusion from this list: pocket park, outdoor cinema, landscaping, cafe, seating and shade, boutique shops, restaurant, day spa, recreational space, function space, food vans.

If a mixed use development goes ahead on the Braddon bowls site, what should it include?

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For both the mixed use and townhouse options, the survey provided participants with the opportunity to choose between preferred materials they’d like to see used in the development, including the options of concrete, brick, textured concrete, timber, zinc cladding, travertine stone, green wall, corten steel or “other suggestions”.

Mr Bulum will now wait for Canberra’s verdict.

“If they want townhouses, I’ll go work on a townhouse plan,” he says, pointing out, though, that the development has the potential to provide services for all Canberrans, which is why he’s keen to read the responses of RiotACT readers to his ideas for the site.

“I’m sensitive to the street, but the street doesn’t own this site, it’s Canberra. We all have every right to this site, don’t we,” he says, adding that his vision would allow all Canberrans access to the space to hold events or relax in the precinct.

“If it’s a townhouse site, it locks everyone out.”

What would you like to see on the old bowls club site at Braddon? Let us (and Mr Bulum) know in the comments below and by responding to our polls.

The Canberra City Bowls Club is zoned under the Territory Plan as CZ6 – Leisure and Accommodation, which means the following objectives apply:

a) Provide for the development of entertainment, accommodation and leisure facilities for residents of and visitors to the ACT and surrounding region
b) Protect leisure and accommodation uses from competition from higher order commercial uses, and encourage activities that enhance the region’s economic diversity and employment prospects
c) Ensure leisure and accommodation facilities have convenient access to public transport
d) Protect the amenity of nearby residential areas, with regard to noise, traffic, parking and privacy
e) Ensure the location of facilities, and their design and landscaping is compatible with environmental values
f) Ensure that the bulk, scale, size, design and landscaping of development is compatible with the surrounding landscapeg) Encourage activity at street frontage level and provide an appropriate level of surveillance of the public realm

And the following uses are permitted:

Aquatic recreation facility
Outdoor recreation facility
Car park/camping ground
Overnight camping area
Commercial accommodation
Pedestrian plaza
Community use
Place of assembly
Public transport facility
craft workshop
Development in a location and of type identified in a precinct map as additional merit track development
Drink establishment
Drive-in cinema
Group or organised camp
Temporary use
Indoor entertainment facility
Tourist facility
Indoor recreation facility
Varying a lease (where not prohibited, code track or impact track assessable)
Minor road
Zoological facility

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Holden Caulfield2:38 pm 01 Apr 17

Oh well, I guess it was fun while it lasted:


From the comments section of the above link:

“Unfortunately it’s not an Aprils fool joke. Due to all the fuss about us opening and restrictions on our license we could not deliver all the live music and shows and burlesque and art we wanted to as part of our concept. All the complaints and restrictions have caused it to become non profitable and a loss. We really wanted to entertain you all with the best this country has to offer in shows but I guess a few always ruin it for the majority. Thanks for all those who supported us ? bonkers”

devils_advocate1:12 pm 09 Jan 17

1) it’s a good location in that it permits reasonable parking, bicycling and pedestrian access.
2) the current utilisation of the space is atrocious, such an inefficient design. Can it go to 2 stories?
3) the current space does not engage nicely with the street scape – I think the newly redesigned bar in O’Connor shops (Duxton?) has achieved this nicely. If there is a larger open space this could be with one or two sides open to the street with the rest of the development overlooking it (subject to utilisation of the space as mentioned above).

I would love to see a pool and a lot of open but shady grassy areas (a small playground would be nice too).

A cafe and/or food trucks and open-air cinema would all be a great addition. If any food venues on site closed at 9 or 10, that would keep any noise disturbance to a minimum. A small communal garden would also be cool and would benefit residents in the area, as well as for any cafes on site.

A large underground parking garage would be a smart idea to handle the additional traffic.

While you clearly can’t please everyone, as long as there is a focus being on a ‘community area’ you can’t go wrong!

charleyandjus9:10 pm 23 Dec 16

Hi I’m a high income, 30-something, public servant with no kids who bought in Braddon because I love the area and I love Lonsdale St. I love the mixed choice of restaurants, art spaces, yoga studios, camping stores, car shops, dentists, post office, supermarket…. I love that I can walk to almost anything that I could want or need… interesting public events are only a short walk or a bus trip away… I LOVE the green spaces.

My only complaint is that the old Braddon industrial buildings are so interesting and they are being replaced by new buildings that have the same cookie-cutter Canberra look of box apartments (not Ori – think IQ).

I also love that I DON’T live on Lonsdale St. I can visit but don’t have to live with the construction, bustle, noise, drunkeness, dangerous drivers, crazy parking situation and the men who stare too much when women walk past the pubs. I am worried that the rest of Braddon will become like that.

I personally hope that the new site keeps its green, outdoor space and is quiet. I would like to grow food in community gardens, eat at a lovely restaurant (like Sage) and participate in cooking classes. I would use a beautiful 25m outdoor pool with lawns that visible from the street – even though my building has a small indoor pool. I would visit a decent day spa (nothing Chinese massage). I would exercise in green space eg jogging, yoga, cross-training etc. I would also love a space to take art classes.

I’m really pleased to see this consultation – thanks to Nik and RiotACT. I like the idea of a mixed use development. I think that some residential is not necessarily out of the question, but perhaps a community or co-housing model like Smart Urban Villages is promoting: http://www.smarturbanvillages.com (I’m not associated with them, just like their ideas). The other (left field) thing I’d love to see in Braddon is an old-fashioned hardware store for those of us in the area who don’t want to or can’t drive out to Fyshwick, Belco or Gungahlin to a mega store. It could be small and specialise in the kinds of tools and equipment needed by apartment dwellers who might want to plant some vegies on a balcony, hang a picture, change a washer, fix some stuff or buy some new brushware. Ideally the store would also run workshops on these kinds of tasks, and have knowledgeable staff ready to provide advice and so become a community hub. It might fit well with the community garden ideas for the bowls club site. If I was an entrepreneurial type, I’d do it myself!

I’ll start by saying that I really enjoy Braddon as it is now, and credit much of that to the developments of Nik Bulum, that seem to prioritise good architecture and design over cookie-cutter, mass produced dross. I love how family friendly the Hamlet and the rest of the area is, inspite of having bars – it is a pleasant place to be.

To that end, I will give Nik and co, credit and the benefit of the doubt from the outset, when they talk about development and changes to an area. Even without him being the new next door neighbour, he seems to really care about Canberra, and should be commended.

Now then, what do I see as a good devlopment for the Bowls Club site. I will say that I have no idea about the business viability, and rates of return that Bulum needs, but here it goes anyway.

1. The residents are currently unhappy with the Bowls Club being too noisy, but don’t want to change. The problem is that Function centres are associated with heavy drinking late at night. Restaurants, cafes or activities that permit drinking but as a side activity will probably still draw people in, but let them be quieter.
2. The hamlet is awesome for families – decent food, good variety, limited alcohol, and a very relaxed setting. It would be well suited to relocate to the new site. Make it similar outdoor eating, perhaps greened up like the Grounds.
3. If greened up like the Grounds, then the space could be a “communal” vegie/herb garden, and perhaps the basis for cooking programs, artisan foods etc…
4. An outdoor cinema sounds awesome. The chance to sit outside, watch a film, sports event or even special tv show screenings, with a quiet wine or beer would be great – maybe only really good for 6 months of the year though. Maybe during the colder months, the lawns for the cinema could be used for croquet or bocce or something else
5. Unfortunately, to recoup some investment, I would see the need for some residential aspects – I would hope it is more boutique hotel, to provide customers to the facility, than townhouses, or retirement home. They are “private” spaces and would limit the community spirit of the area.
6. Whatever there is needs to be well served by bike parking etc, as the area is well suited to pedestrians/bikes etc… instead of cars.

That’s my 2c (if it is worth that much), but I look forward to seeing what comes of the development. I like how the inner North is changing, and encourage more of the quality changes that Nik Bulum seems to bring.

Holden Caulfield said :

Something like The Grounds would be great. A permanent home for some Hamlet businesses and some new ones too.

I agree Holden Caulfield. The Grounds has such a great feel and vibe to it. I’m assuming the developer could make a lot more money just putting up townhouses, so glad he is open to doing something a bit different.

I really enjoy the atmosphere at the Hamlet, we take our kids there all the time and they love it to. I would love to see the idead of the Hamlet live on in some form in Braddon.

Melissa Carrington11:17 am 21 Dec 16

I’d love to see an outdoor cinema. Good on Nik for throwing some of his ideas out for consultation.

How about a Lawn Bowls club.

It’s a bit sad that a community club like this is potentially allowed by the Government to be bought on the cheap and redeveloped into housing at a huge profit for the developer and real estate agents.

I am more concerned that Braddon has started to canabilise itself lately. More and more businesses are opening up and closing other businesses down. I have seen about 10 proprietors close in and around Lonsdale st in the last 12 months. I wouldn’t want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.

I’m also not sure why people would want more dining options and noise 500m away from the central Braddon business area and in and amongst quiet and sedate housing.

Holden Caulfield9:51 am 21 Dec 16

Something like The Grounds would be great. A permanent home for some Hamlet businesses and some new ones too. As always, parking and concerns for existing residents would need to be taken into consideration.

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