26 September 2021

Manuka hotel project on the brink over Canberra Avenue entrance condition

| Ian Bushnell
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Construction site at Manuka

The Capitol Hotel construction site in Manuka, showing Stage 1 and the old Capitol Theatre, which will make way for Stage 2. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Stage 2 of the Liangis Group’s Capitol Hotel and cinema development in Manuka has hit an impasse after the planning authority rejected the proponent’s bid to remove key conditions imposed on the project when it was approved in July.

The central sticking point is a requirement for a main entrance and activated frontage on Canberra Avenue/Manuka Circle as per the National Capital Plan and the Development Control Plan.

The National Capital Design Review Panel had also recommended that there be a clear sense of address and frontage on Canberra Avenue/Manuka Circle, and that the proponent explore a pedestrian arcade connecting Franklin Street to Manuka Circle through the centre of the building and create a porte-cochère on Manuka Circle.

Artist's impression of the development

An artist’s impression of the project. The planning authority wants a main entrance and activated frontage to Canberra Avenue/Manuka Circle. Image: Stewart Architecture.

But developer Sotira Liangis has rejected any such change to the original design, which has a main entrance on Franklin Street opposite the Manuka Arcade, and other entrances on Flinders Way and opposite St Christopher’s Cathedral.

The project is now in limbo with a defiant Mrs Liangis refusing to budge, not saying whether she would take the matter to ACAT and threatening to not proceed with the development.

“I know exactly what I am going to do. You will have to wait and see,” she said.

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In its Reconsideration application, the proponent said the provision of a main entry to the hotel facing Canberra Avenue/Manuka Circle was based on an outdated concept of Canberra Avenue as a Grand Boulevard, which is no longer realistic.

“None of the main buildings in Manuka, including the two churches, Endeavour House and Manuka Oval, has a major entrance fronting Manuka Circle,” it says.

Construction site at Manuka

Capitol Hotel Stage 1 on the corner of Flinders Way and Canberra Avenue. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Mrs Liangis said the entrances were sited where the people, shops and car parks are.

“The main entrance on Canberra Avenue is not going to happen, full stop,” she said.

She also rejected any notion of a pedestrian link through the development.

“I’m not going to have anybody go through my expensive five-star hotel to walk across from Canberra Avenue,” Mrs Liangis said.

The development is seen as a vital part of Manuka’s revival, and Mrs Liangis suggested its struggling businesses and retailers, and anyone who cares about the shopping centre, should be alarmed at the holdup.

Asked if she was considering retaining the theatre building and redeveloping it, Mrs Liangis said: “If I’m going to build anything, I’m going to build exactly what I have designed for the last four years. I’m not going to revise my beautiful architecture.”

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Chief Planner Ben Ponton said the proponent could seek a review of the reconsideration decision before the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT) within 28 days of the date of decision (16 September).

Stage 2 will replace the old Capitol Theatre building and comprises a six-storey building including basement car parking and cinemas, hotel lobby, restaurant and commercial tenancies, 122 guest rooms, guest amenities, pool, gym, and meeting rooms.

Stage 1 on the corner of Franklin Street, Flinders Way and Canberra Avenue is nearing completion.

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Wouldn’t you just put the door in and then never have it open?

PLANNING the main entrance on Canberra Avenue is a sensible and practical choice .
Franklin street Cafe/Retail strip already has vehicle and pedestrian traffic congestion . Adding a Hotel Entry with vehicle drop off pick up burdens Franklin St. Reference the original 1927 Heritage Capitol Theatre, demolished in March 1980, that shows its main entrance centred on Canberra Avenue.

Agree. There is a case to make for part of Franklin St to be a pedestrian zone which would help increase foot traffic for the cafes and shops. That would also make an arcade in the Liangis complex more viable.

abdul mutawe10:33 am 24 Sep 21

Having performed building works for Mrs Liangis over past decades, I have to say she is very astute, capable and fair. And she does have good taste.

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