Stop the games on the Triangle!

It's clearly not rocket science and yet the overly bureaucratic way that real decisions on the Triangle have been avoided demonstrates a serious lack of both experience and commonsense.  It's a good reminder of why we elect  'ordinary' citizens to make policy and direct our Councils rather than allowing the mandarin planners to run things.  It's high time the councillors took back leading on our behalf.

It took the planners a year to write a meaningless 42 word 'vision statement' and now five new talking committees are proposed that will effectively keep the ball safely in touch for another year if we're not careful. And there's also no finance committee, an important failing as all the decisions are interdependent and dependent on funding.

And it all seems a bit like make-work when the 2012 Triangle Vision Report covered the same areas as the new committees. It's time consulting and talking stopped and some hard decisions are made.  Even if they are postponed for a year or two, the same decisions will have to be made then and we'll be in no better position to make them.

The first in-principle decisionis to consider the improvement of the Triangle site separately from the restoration of the Palais.  Another appeal by Port Phillip Council asking the State Government to fork over in the order of $40 millions to restore the State owned heritage theatre was reported in the Age recently.  They haven't replied yet, and I sincerely hope they say yes, but I wouldn't hold my breath!  Except for a Labor sweetener at the last election to stop the roof leaking, so far neither side of politics has ever offered to provide any major funding. 

 There are three main options for the Palais:

• Make the development on the Triangle site sufficiently commercial that it could pay for the restoration of the Palais as one of the development costs, or
• Give a selected developer (or the current lessee) a long term lease at a low rent in return for fixing it up, or
• Wait for the Victorian taxpayers to fund it.   

 We've already tried the first option, but no thank you, we don't want a shopping centre.

 The second option could be simply tested by calling for expressions of interest with a brief to do all the sensible things developer Citta proposed to do to the Palais plus whatever extra is now considered necessary. 

 And if no one's interested, then tough luck, the theatre will simply have to stay as it is.  It's not as though it's not being used, there are currently over 100 performances every year, and it was good enough for a recent Bob Dylan sell out.

 The restoration of the theatre is eminently desirable, but it's totally inequitable for local ratepayers to pay the high cost of restoring a State owned building that has a metropolitan wide theatrical role to play.  So although I have strong concerns about the future of the Palais, I also think it's totally unreasonable to delay improving the sad looking Triangle site waiting for never-never funding for the Palais; it's already almost ten years later!

 The second in-principle decisionshould be to simply decide that there will be no underground parking.   It's far too expensive and cheaper alternative places outside the site have to be found where parking could be located at grade. 

 There are for example, 440 existing spaces in the Sea Baths that are rarely more that 10% full.   Angle parking in Cavell Avenue (between the Palais and Luna Park) would provide some extra spaces at no cost except for line marking.  The Shakespeare Grove parking could be decked over to double the numbers, it would be much less costly and would also serve the Acland Street shops.  And there are other opportunities like these. A simple study to determine the minimum number of peak parking spaces needed and where they could be located is all that's needed. 

This option has been ignored so far by herd acceptance that there must be underground parking.  The overall aim should be to minimise the number of parked cars and encourage the use of public transport.  Not digging up the site would also mean that contaminated soil can be left where its been buried for years, not only saving the cost of removing it but also allowing the landscaping to put its roots down into real soil. 

 With these simple actions, two of the biggest decisions to free up the site at an acceptable cost would be made.  And at the same time it should be agreed in-principle that there should be no commercial development on the site except for a coffee and ice cream kiosk.  We don't need more shops, restaurants and bars to compete with already overcrowded Acland and Fitzroy streets!  

 Various seriously unfunded cultural possibilities like a gallery of aboriginal art have been suggested and Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens keeps on being mentioned, but the site isn't central or busy enough for the latter.  The likelihood of any of these being viable has to be individually assessed, decisions made and the likelihood of grants being available realistically assessed.

 The best suggestion made so far, and certainly the only one remotely affordable, is to create a sophisticated, world class sculpture-garden for citizens and visitors but so far this hasn't received the attention it deserves.

Art garden
A rather too subtle street sticker by the proponents of an art- garden.

 Then there is also an old perennial that by sinking Jacka Boulevard the Triangle could be joined to the foreshore reserve by a landscaped bridge over the road.  This is high cost, 'pie in the sky' stuff in an unfunded situation, and hasn't even been proved practical yet in terms of drainage and permitting traffic access to the foreshore buildings that would be affected.  And quite apart from the major disruption during construction, it would certainly fail any cost-benefit evaluation about the prudent allocation of scarce funds.

 However the open area between the back of the Palais and Jacka Boulevard could possibly be developed as a live music complex.  Such a building should be based on desirable uses and a building envelope designed like that in the ill-fated Citta scheme so there would be no overshadowing of the foreshore reserve. Expressions of interest should be invited to lease the site and develop entertainment spaces and associated parking at no cost to residents.  Yes or no, this would also narrow down the options.

I met some cynical old Triangle stalwarts the other day who were dismayed at the extra three metres in height approved recently for the disappointing design proposed to replace the burnt down Stokehouse on the foreshore.  They were concerned that the extra height will affect views from the Upper Esplanade, and see the extra height and the current delaying actions as a ploy for more intense development on the Triangle by default.

Since last week's fire in Donovans, the other foreshore restaurant, they will be even more concerned that it doesn't get rebuilt to match the increased height of the Stokehouse.  Then we really would have a wall of buildings interrupting those great open views of the Bay from the Upper Esplanade.

 I don't believe in conspiracies but it's certainly time to stop the words and the talk, make the in-principle decisions and find a good designer to explore design options without delay.  There's an important creative sense that a good designer brings to the table that transcends all the words and the design process itself often suggests other desirable opportunities.  To get to a real design isn't as complex or as time consuming as made out by the mandarins.  There have been enough kindergarten community consultations.  We deserve something better than the current ugly carpark.

All that's required is for our councillors to reclaim control and make some hard in-principle decisions; it's what we elected them to do! 

 Come on, be bold and independent; make Carlo Catani proud of you!

 Don Gazzard LFAIA