$60m church, town council deal may make Alice buzz

By ERWIN CHLANDA

 

The town centre is turned into a place where locals mingle and visitors are welcomed.
Concerts are held for 3000 people.
Beautiful spaces take the place of ugly car parks.
The Mall no longer turns into a sinister ghost town when the sun sets, and where tourists are warned not to go.
Anti-social behaviour no longer flourishes in this void.
The place is buzzing with people living right there, in 60 or 70 apartments in the heart of The Alice, marketed through pre-sales and built to order, from one to three bedrooms.
Pie in the sky? It’s closer than you think.
It may be a brave call, given that the Melanka block and the old Commonwealth Bank site in Parsons Street are still in limbo, but the Town Council and the Uniting Church are pushing the project.
It would halt the town’s doom and gloom, says the chairman of the Uniting Church Property Working Group, Bruce Walker. It would be a development that celebrates not only what the town has been, but what it will be, “a place that welcomes locals and travelers”.
The central point is the three blocks of land the church owns in the Mall – Adelaide House, the old manse now used by an Aboriginal employment service, and Flynn Church.
A generous 25 year agreement with the Town Council ended last year. It gave public access to the grounds, to walk through to Hartley Street, past the historic school there, to the Yeperenye Centre.
The grounds of church blocks became a place to sit down on the lawns, and for kids to play.
But with growing “social disturbance”, as Dr Walker calls it, and economic changes for the worse, the church’s $4m asset turned into a liability: “The broken panes of glass, the coping falling off the verandah, the cleaning of the grounds, the need for painting, it was sending us broke.
“$2.50 for a cuppa and a scone from a flagging tourism market just isn’t enough.”
The option clearly was to put up the shutters – as so many others in the CBD had done.
Dr Walker, for decades the driving force behind the Centre for Appropriate Technology and Desert Knowledge, and the church council went the other way: Let’s make the place tick, they decided.
They teamed up with the Town Council, solicited support from community organisations including the Chamber of Commerce, and asked the Federal Government for $15m from its Regional Development Infrastructure Fund in Canberra. Successful bids will be announced in July.
The council seems set to put in some money, and loans would make up the balance of a project worth in the order of $60m.
“If carefully managed this project can work,” says Dr Walker.
As much as possible of the land is intended to be used as public space, so the apartments, a key component paying for  the Alice Springs Meeting Place – that’s the name – obviously will need to go up.
“We believe we have a reasonable proposition the community will embrace,” says Dr Walker.
Stand by for the renewed clamour of those objecting to highrise.
In Dr Walker’s view the town’s only new large building in recent times, on the former block owned by Lizzy Milne, next to Kmart, is “a bad outcome from a height limitation policy”: lt stretches from boundary to boundary, no open spaces there, because with a three storey limit that’s the only way the owners can make the development work.
The town’s past built heritage – its first hospital (Adelaide House), Hartley Street School, the Residency – are as crucial to the project as its evolving role in the region.
Between the 2006 and 2011 census counts, 66% of the population “turned over,” says Dr Walker.
There are now as many African and Indian people living in Alice as there are Aborigines.
We’re a supply centre for 260 bush communities.
And tourists as well as fly-in, fly-out workers are using the town’s facilities without paying council rates that maintain them.
So a financial stimulus is as badly needed as is confidence in the future of The Centre.
Dr Walker says the project would bring to fruition recommendations contained in a string of government and other reports, and prior public consultation, and work in with the current upgrade of the northern end of the Mall.
The Uniting Church isn’t a novice in commercial enterprises with an altruistic motive: in Darwin it owns the two blocks on which the Mitchell Street shopping centre stands, and next to the church in Darwin’s centre it built a supermarket now rented by Woolworths.
“The returns from these investments support the work of the church throughout the Territory,” says Dr Walker.
What will the Alice Springs Meeting Place do for the community?
“Let’s make up our mind what we want Alice Springs to be like in 50 years time. And then let’s get to work and make it happen.”

PHOTOS, from top: Flynn Church during a night market and with “video architecture” projection during last year’s Alice Desert Festival. •Adelaide House.

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16 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Quinton Henwood
    Posted January 7, 2014 at 5:38 pm

    Alice Springs would be a great place to make a new city.
    It has an airport and the best view in Australia the Uluru rock! It is also in the centre of Australia.
    Yes it can happen. Look at Dubai, look at Las Vegas, heck, look at Baghdad. Desert cities that have thrived.
    The migrants from the Middle East would feel at home and it would also open up Central Australia by road and rail way to every other city.
    Sydney and Melbourne are full and Brisbane and Perth will be full in just 20 years. Alice Springs is the perfect place for a future city.
    We also have a responsibility as humans to help others, we will need two more cities within the next 100 years if we are going to take on the Chinese, Indian and American migrants who will force our governments’ hand for refuge.
    Australia has the most unused land in the world per square meter.

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  2. Brigida
    Posted April 29, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    Better to go up in a small town that has no social night life at the heart of it … more room for social garden, cafe type spaces within the buildings spaces on ground level. Love it – let’s feed positive thought.

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  3. Bob Durnan
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 11:55 am

    So, “Spot” (Posted April 24, 2013 at 11:10 pm), it was beyond the ken of these fabulous civic-minded “developers” to organise maintenance and get the pipes fixed in a solid useful building whose rooms were much in demand by backpackers and others (I myself stayed there a number of times), but you reckon they have the answers to the town’s problems?
    More likely they appreciated the way that they and their cronies would be able to ratchet up the rentals on their other properties around town once the Melanka had been decommissioned, and also make money by selling the Melanka site off for a song to suckers from interstate once they had reduced the hostel to rubble.

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  4. Spot
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 11:10 pm

    Well, if its going to be like that Bob, here goes: Firstly, even you say that in some cases the four or five story limit would be OK.
    You may have been able to help the – as you put it – half witted developer that knocked down the old Melanka building so they could have built what would have been a top class backpackers resort now.
    And if you had a good look at the old building you would have know it was originally built as cheap as possible to put workers into, and in a almost disgusting condition with even sewage running down the halls at times.
    As far as other blocks in the CBD, maybe if you went and stood in the middle of the old Melanka block and looked to west, you will see another empty block. Then look to the north, that’s towards the mall, were all the laid back aura can be found after dark on most nights of the week, or is that, as the story quotes, a sinister ghost town environment? You will see another empty block full of cars. Remember, this is also how the empty block at the old Shell servo site got turned into a car park; everyone parked there so much they turned it into a car park.
    The site you are referring to is not the old Shell location but the old Mobil Palms, according to my research.
    And according to the census 66% cent of the decision makers turn over in town, so I guess all everyone has to do is wait for those who are holding the town back to leave.

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  5. Bob Durnan
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    Wtf “Spot” (Posted April 22, 2013 at 9:21 pm): “the town is full of undeveloped blocks … in the CBD”? You could have fooled me … Maybe “Spot” could point them all out to us? I thought developers had been complaining about a shortage of development sites in the CBD for years. I am only aware of the Melanka Hostel site, which would still be used as accommodation if some half-witted “developer” hadn’t knocked the hostel down; the old Shell Service Station site; and the old Commonwealth bank, which is still standing, in the CBD. Where are all these other undeveloped vacant sites in the CBD, or indeed in the rest of the town, Mr or Mrs “Spot”?
    As for the height restrictions: community leaders, town planners and government had the foresight to preserve the laid back aura of Alice Springs, and the beauty of the views from Anzac Hill, by forbidding high rise development which could have turned the centre of Alice into a poor imitation of Las Vegas over the last few decades. The occasional four or five storey building may be permissible in some situations, but let’s keep the vistas of our beautiful hills, and forgo the concrete canyons.

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  6. Spot
    Posted April 22, 2013 at 9:21 pm

    Wake up Alice. Not only is the cost of land at ridiculous levels, you have people putting building height restrictions that cause developers to build in other towns.
    Now the town is full of undeveloped blocks that add to the dysfunctional CBD.
    So get them to build, let them build because when you have a town not moving forward it only goes backwards, and Alice Springs doesn’t need that as well.
    As for the height restrictions, stuff ’em. A building with a mobile phone transmitter on it looks better than a steel tower – and don’t they look higher than your three story limit anyway?

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  7. Hal Duell
    Posted April 22, 2013 at 12:01 am

    @Anonymous
    And five storeys for the Melanka site, although that may have lapsed by now. Is the exemption for developing the old Commonwealth Bank building still valid? Hope so.
    I don’t remember a height exemption being mentioned for 50 Bath Street. If that’s the number of the Green Well, I wish they had taken advantage of it. Alice is being stunted by being kept in these low-rise boxes.
    I also like the idea of something tall being built on the site of the old petrol station on Wills Terrace. Then a light show could be projected from the roof to stop the kids throwing rocks from Anzac Hill into the windscreens of passing cars.
    All this future development would help us reclaim Alice Springs to make it a safe and sane urban environment. One problem – these proposals need money, and where that will come from is anyone’s guess. But let’s hope it comes from somewhere, or we look to be walking into a future as a struggle-town.

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  8. Anonymous
    Posted April 21, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    Exceptional Development Permits were issued (by the the Minister) for 50 Bath St (four storeys) and Parsons St (old Commonwealth Bank building) 5 storeys. The Alice Springs News Online has reported on this previously.

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  9. Hal Duell
    Posted April 21, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    So four stories were considered for the Green Well but knocked back by the DCA. Had the taller structure been allowed, the building might not be quite so forbidding. Not much to do about it now. It’s still an attractive addition to Alice Springs, ‘rusty rectangle’ not withstanding.
    It’s worth noting that the rusty look softens immeasurably with landscaping. Visit or look online at the imposing and award winning Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart.
    Our Town Council would not have the power to impose a three story restriction, so this must come from Darwin. It is possible to ask what right Darwin and the DCA have to so limit the development of Alice, and do they mean to continue? Why are they holding us back? I notice that there is no such height restriction in Darwin.
    Wasn’t the same three story restriction used when the Alice Plaza was built from boundary to boundary? And what an uninspired exterior that is! With another level, might the planners of the day have been inspired to soften that eastern wall? If that had happened, we might still have a pedestrian mall instead of even more traffic through the CBD.
    Neither the Alice Plaza nor the Green Well offer examples for the proponents of the height restriction to crow about. Why not offer a trade? Another story or two and in exchange the street level to be welcoming and pedestrian friendly.

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  10. Paul Graham
    Posted April 21, 2013 at 11:33 am

    As part owner of the building on the old Lizzy Milne site, it was once considered to construct a four story building on the site, which would have offered green space.
    However, this was pretty much squashed by DCA as it did not conform with the Acts at the time, so yes it was considered.
    It was very important for us to have a building that lives within the desert landscape that is almost timeless in design so in many years time it doesn’t look outdated as so many buildings in the CBD do.
    We have preserved the original well on the north / east end of the block, there is also some literature on the history of the site, we have also planted a citrus tree that from my memory Lizzy also had on the site.
    Although we have not put signage up to date, the building is known as “Green Well”, due to the Green aspects in the design as it is the first five star NABERS rated building in Central Australia and of course the Well.
    I would love to see the proposed development in the mall go ahead, or almost any development for that matter to bring some vibrancy back to the CBD.

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  11. Richard Bentley
    Posted April 21, 2013 at 9:53 am

    This looks like a great proposal. Make sure that there are plenty of bike parks, few or no car parks, solar panels on the roof and we should be pleased to welcome such a development. More effective at stimulating the town centre than turning a pedestrian space into a street.

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  12. Leigh Childs
    Posted April 20, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    Craig, I am quite willing to hear your long winded explanations.
    Do tell … I am all ears.

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  13. Craig
    Posted April 19, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    Lived 8 years in the NT, I’d say good luck but you have NO chance. I would give long winded explanations why but you people living there already know why.

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  14. Leigh Childs
    Posted April 19, 2013 at 10:31 am

    There has been a suggestion by one of our local architects to build a multi-storey retirement accommodation on the old Mobil service station site on Wills Terrace.
    This building would face onto Anzac oval, a very pleasing aspect for living in a medium highrise but most important of all is that the residents wouldn’t need transport because they are there, right in town, in walking distance from movies, shops, churches, restaurants, post office etc.
    Retirement villages are usually built on the outskirts of towns / cities, effectively isolating the residents who don’t drive anymore.
    This happened to my dad, when he had to give up driving he didn’t feel confident enough to use the bus services.
    Lots of retirees don’t want the hassle of gardens, especially in this climate. The CBD would benefit from having an influx of people living right in town.
    At first I was a bit taken aback with a medium highrise in town but as was pointed out to me it is on the edge of the CBD and would not interfere with any sightlines. In fact the more I think about the advantages to all, the more I like it.
    Alice Springs has already lost its Town Like Alice look and it has become an ordinary little town … look at the Hookers building or the new rusty rectangle near Kmart. Very ordinary buildings that say … nothing. They certainly do not say … outback … or Alice Springs.

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  15. Hal Duell
    Posted April 17, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    Have plans been drawn up? Even suggestions? Where, for instance, will the tall apartment blocks be going?
    In theory I’m all for the idea of turning the centre of town into a lived in area, but both the Melanka block and the Commonwealth bank building stirred up a deal of controversy, gained planning approval (or at least the Melanka site did), and then came to nothing.
    I hope we get a chance to read more of this. There is optimism across the Top End with development gaining traction up there. The Ord River Scheme, one of the world’s largest inland irrigation systems, may finally realise its potential. At the same time, Darwin is turning into a city and Australian’s port to Asia.
    It would be most welcome to see a Town Like Alice become the city of Alice Springs, but first the precious mind-set that we are a dusty little town at the back of beyond will need to evolve.
    That’s an interesting point made about the new building on Lizzy Milne’s old block. Does it even have a name? And if it could have gone above three stories, would an open public space have been included? As it is, it’s an exceptionally attractive exterior, or at least it is to me, but it’s a bit forbidding. A garden would have softened that.

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  16. David Chewings
    Posted April 17, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    I have always been the eternal optimist, especially about our desert people and regions but I think you must partaking of the same water as the ASTC if you’re wiv me … first things first in other words!

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