Festival Hall development: Owners say venue is being ‘pummelled’ by larger, newer arenas
By Dan Harrison
The owners of Festival Hall say they need to sell the iconic Melbourne venue because it can no longer compete with larger and newer venues such as Margaret Court Arena.
The venue’s owner, Stadiums Limited, plans to sell the site and has lodged a planning application with the City of Melbourne to demolish most of the building and build two 16-storey buildings on the site.
The proposed development would include 179 apartments, 1400 square metres of commercial space and 230 car parking spaces.
Stadiums Limited does not intend to build the development, but hopes to find an interested buyer to see through the plan.
Since opening in 1915, the West Melbourne venue has played host to some of the biggest names in music, including The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, the Foo Fighters, Ed Sheeran and Lorde.
Music guru Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum said he was saddened by the development proposal, and shed a tear when he heard the news.
“In this day and age, we need more places to play live music,” he said.
“Quite a few of the artists now, from here and overseas — I’ll use Ed Sheeran as a good example of that — love going into these smaller places and doing a more intimate thing with the audience, which is hard with the big stadiums.”
Meldrum said the first concert he saw at Festival Hall was The Beatles in 1964, but he was thrown out by bouncers for yelling “I love you” to Paul McCartney and John Lennon.
“I was kicking at the door, scratching it, [saying] ‘Let me back in’, so if they’re pulling down I want that door because I reckon my fingernails are still in the wood,” he said.
It has also been the venue for numerous wrestling and boxing bouts featuring the likes of Lionel Rose, Johnny Fammachon and Anthony Mundine, and an indoor tennis exhibition featuring John McEnroe.
The venue was destroyed by fire in 1955 but was rebuilt in time to host the gymnastics and wrestling at the Olympic Games the next year.
Announcing the sale and development proposal at a media conference in Melbourne today, Stadiums Limited director Chris Wren said the company had decided to sell the venue because the time was approaching when it would no longer be profitable to operate.
“I draw the analogy [that] an old boxer facing up to a younger, bigger, stronger opponent is going to get well and truly pummelled and with the opening of Margaret Court Arena, and Hisense [Arena] to a lesser extent, we’re being pummelled,” Mr Wren said.
Mr Wren said the development proposal sought to recognise the historical and cultural significance of Festival Hall by incorporating its stage and boxing ring into the design.
The venue’s Dudley Street facade has also been incorporated.
Another director of the company, John Wren, who has been involved in running the stadium for half a century and whose grandfather built the venue in 1915, said it was a “very, very sad day”.
"It is hard but it’s a fact that we’ve got to move on, and we’ve made our decision."