Melbourne’s Iconic Festival Hall Could Be Bulldozed & Turned Into Apartments

In the latest in a string of extremely poor, culture-killing decisions, a new development proposal could see Melbourne’s famous and enduring live music and performance cornerstone Festival Hall flattened in favour of, you guessed it, a new block of apartments.

A planning proposal has reportedly been submitted to the Melbourne City Council for a $65 million redevelopment of the site, which would include two 16-storey apartment towers, and provide space for offices and retail ventures.

The proposal is being spearheaded by Festival Hall’s owning family, the Wren family, who inherited the site from businessman John Wren, the man who originally built the famous West Melbourne venue in 1915.

The current building on the site dates back to 1955, when it was rebuilt after being destroyed by fire. In the decades since, the venue has played host to a raft of culturally significant performances from iconic artists, including the likes of The BeatlesElton JohnJohnny CashFrank SinatraLiberaceThe Easybeats, through to modern day greats like the Red Hot Chilli PeppersRage Against The MachinePowderfinger, Lorde, and countless others.

The venue also became known colloquially as the “House of Stoush,” due to its popularity as a venue for boxing and wrestling cards. Significantly, the Hall played host to the bulk of legendary Indigenous boxer Lionel Rose‘s early career fights. The iconic fighter was farewelled at a State Funeral held at Festival Hall in 2011.

Globally significant professional wrestling promotion New Japan Pro Wrestling is scheduled to make their Australian debut at the venue next month.

It’s understood that the building is partially protected by a heritage overlay, but the Wren family is reportedly not expecting that to be a major hurdle in any redevelopment process.

The plans call for the Dudley Street facade to be retained, as well as the facility’s boxing ring and stage, which will remain in their current spaces. However the redevelopment would spell the end for the site as an entertainment venue.

Should Festival Hall disappear, it would leave a gaping hole in venues of that size in Melbourne. With a capacity of around 5,400 for concerts, it bridges the gap for touring bands between venues like The Forum, and arena-sized venues like Rod Laver Arena or Margaret Court Arena.

It is a venue not without its flaws and any continual usage would demand significant upgrades, but without it Melbourne is a much, much poorer place.

Couple that with the fact that the site rests directly against major train lines and is a stone’s throw away from Docklands and its litany of empty apartments, and the idea of removing the venue for yet more soulless, cardboard cut-out flats seems utterly ridiculous.

The Wren family is due to announce their plans for the site publicly later today.