1 May 2018

Library may go in plan to develop premier cultural precinct in Civic

| Ian Bushnell
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An aerial view of the precinct (shaded) and key features, including the site of the new Government offices and future land release. Image is from the tender document.

A makeover is being proposed for Civic Square so it can be integrated into a broader cultural precinct that will see a redeveloped Canberra Theatre and the new Government Office Building but may also see Civic Library move from its present location.

In the tender document for a consultant to develop a plan to transform the area into the premier arts and cultural precinct in Canberra and the region, the City Renewal Authority says Civic Square has been a ‘missed opportunity’.

“With work commenced on the new Government Office Building, and the proposed redevelopment of the Canberra Theatre, an opportunity presents itself to prepare a framework to ensure these developments are integrated with thinking around a broader precinct,” it says.

The proposed Civic, Arts and Cultural Precinct is located immediately to the east of City Hill, bounded by Vernon Circle, London Circuit, Constitution Avenue and Northbourne Avenue.

The successful consultant’s brief will be to re-imagine Civic Square, and develop at least three designs within a new urban design framework and heritage considerations.

It calls for a review of existing uses in the precinct, particularly around Civic Square, and seeks ways to activate the ground floor space of adjacent buildings, including alternative uses for Civic Library and parts of the Canberra Museum and Gallery building.

The Authority also wants to see options to improve the laneways within the precinct, and a master plan developed that takes in the Theatre’s proposed redevelopment, the new Government Office Building, and future mixed-use land release.

“The master plan will need to consider National Capital Authority aspirations for City Hill and the radial streets connecting with it; as well as connectivity and integration with the future proposed site for a new convention centre and Northbourne Plaza/light rail terminus,” the tender document says.

The Authority wants new creative and cultural spaces to be identified, possibly through the development of release sites within the precinct or other means.

The work should include a development timeline, capital works program and a cost/benefit analysis.

The Authority believes any new plan must involve the new Government Office Building, which should be able to bring vibrancy to the area. But it warns doing nothing or a mediocre response could see Civic Square deteriorate.

“How this development is leveraged to spill over to bring vitality to the rest of the precinct requires consideration as part of this plan. Alternatively, failure to take bold action to revitalise the area, may result in the life being further sucked from the precinct as the Government office comes on line, and the Northbourne plaza development is delivered,” the Authority says.

Any proposals to redevelop Civic Square face a mix of planning and heritage hurdles, with the area also subject to the National Capital Authority.

“Development of the precinct, particularly to the extent it relates to the land axis between City Hill and Mount Ainslie, is restricted. Notwithstanding the significance of this axis [that] has eroded over time with the termination of Ainslie Place, the enclosure of the Theatre Link Building, and the QIC development of the Canberra Centre, the view corridor is still significant, and the NCA has previously resisted development above the level of Vernon Circle inside this corridor,” the tender documents says.

The successful tenderer will need to consult and engage with key stakeholders including the City Renewal Authority; ArtsACT; ACT Heritage Council; Libraries ACT; Cultural Facilities Corporation; National Capital Authority; Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development; and Treasury.

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Richard Agent11:36 am 16 Nov 18

There is nothing wrong with Andrew Barr’s vision of Canberra that nuclear conflict won’t fix.

Coming soon – a light rail station under City Hill so that the public won’t get knocked down by cyclists crossing the road on their way to the new office block to be built there.

Queanbeyanite8:25 pm 04 May 18

Plenty of books at Cantys bookshop.

HiddenDragon5:40 pm 03 May 18

“The Authority believes any new plan must involve the new Government Office Building, which should be able to bring vibrancy to the area. “

The forlorn, pathetic sadness embodied in that sentence is almost unbearable – perhaps the “vibrancy” will come in the form of giant video screens running endless loops of Yes Minister, Yes Prime Minister, The Hollowmen and Utopia.

On matters more practical, as others have noted, car parking is becoming an issue in this area. If the London Circuit/Northbourne Avenue car park is to disappear, does anyone seriously think that hordes of culture-hungry Canberrans will be flocking to performances, particularly evening performances at this time of year, when the transport options are tram, bus or a long walk to and from an expensive and potentially dangerous carpark?

Capital Retro8:51 am 04 May 18

When the government extended the evening hours for paid parking there a couple of years ago there was a dramatic fall-off in business activity in that area along London Circuit and patronage of the car park reduced commensurately at the same time.

The car park is currently used “after hours” by many community groups who attend activities at the Theo Notaras Multicultural Centre. Many are elderly. It’s pointless have facilities like the multicultural centre unless adequate parking is available.

Several bus routes have a bus stop outside the library, with a MUCH shorter walk (for the elderly and others with walking difficulties) than the nearest car space (if you can get it; unlikely). I am not saying that all bus routes go by here, but I have known people to complain about lack of parking here when they could catch their local bus which then stops by the library. They just WON’T catch a bus here, despite it being easier than driving from the inner south suburbs. (That, plus Civic area, is the basic catchment area for this library, as there are also libraries for other catchment areas, such as Belconnen and Woden.) So, parking should not be a problem for those living in the ‘catchment’ area for this library. If you don’t live in that area, go to the one in your area. Paid parking should be irrelevant.

I don’t agree with the library being moved, but if it is, I hope that the bus service is as good as it is now for those in its catchment area. (Many people in the inner south suburbs no longer have easy access to Woden since the bus changes, so the Civic Library is now ‘theirs’.)

Ah, the developers are *still* trying to get their hands on that carpark, are they?

In 1988 that site was supposed to be the site of the casino. Tenders were called world wide for the project. No suitable tenders were found, then along came self-government the following year and the idea was canned.

Since then there have been numerous attempts to dress up different proposals and sell them to the public. Probably the most bizarre was an attempt to build a huge office block (dubbed The Death Star by a former moderator of this site) which would house every ACT government agency and public servant and replace every ACT Government shop front with just the one shopfront in that building. Thankfully that bit of nonsense was scrapped.

Still, it is amusing to see that the enthusiasm of the developers to build something – anything – there hasn’t diminished. Sooner or later the penny will finally drop that the Canberra public does not want another generic, assembly-line tower on that site at all, and are quite content for it to remain as a carpark.

The first domino has already fallen. If the rumours about Morris Property Group’s intentions for Section 63 are also true, then I imagine we’ll see the City Hill precinct redeveloped in line with the NCA’s vision far sooner than you might think: https://i.imgur.com/wQQWdzT.png

Mark of Sydney6:08 am 04 May 18

Well I’m part of the Canberra public and not content for the site to remain a carpark. Surface carparking is ugly and a poor use of CBD land. If you want to speak for the Canberra public I suggest you win an election like Andrew Barr has.

Capital Retro9:04 am 03 May 18

Remember that verse from Joni Mitchells’s Big Yellow Taxi?:

They took all the trees
And put ’em in a tree museum
And they charged the people
A dollar and a half to seem ’em

Capital Retro10:58 pm 02 May 18

Can someone explain what “a broader cultural precinct” is?

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