Uncertainty over future of “eyesore”

By David Schout

The redevelopment of the CBD’s “most high-profile eyesore” into a large-scale bar and restaurant is up in the air after its developers threatened to pull the pin in the wake of an unfavourable City of Melbourne decision.

The O’Brien Group, which acquired a long-term lease to the 1840s-built Job Warehouse on Bourke St in 2019, said the council’s move to push a proposed 3am licence back to 1am and cut patrons by almost 300 would see them “hand back the keys”.

The O’Brien’s Group’s proposal would “unreasonably impact upon the amenity and character of the area” according to the council, particularly on long-term Liverpool St residents.

The council determined that some nearby residents’ balconies would sit just eight metres from the proposed venue and said proposed operating hours were “an incompatible outcome”.

Councillors voted unanimously to grant a planning permit for a 1am closing time (rather than 3am) and for a maximum patron number of 673, rather than a proposed 957. 

O’Brien Group CEO Michael O’Brien said the huge costs involved with the project meant it would require a favourable liquor licence to lock in the venue’s future. 

“Due to the age of the building and its heritage status, the care, time and skill needed to restore this building is three times what it would normally be. To make it viable, we need a 3am licence,” he said.

The heritage-listed Bourke St site in the CBD’s east end, most recently a haberdashery business, has sat derelict since 2012. 

“We are extremely close to making this happen, we are literally in the final hour. The reality is, without the support of the Melbourne City Council for a 3am licence, it will not proceed, and we’ll have no other choice but to hand back the keys to (owners) the Zeimer family … otherwise, Job Warehouse will not be restored.”

Since the December decision, it is not known whether the Group planned to discontinue its plans.

Mr O’Brien has not responded to inquiries from CBD News about the its next move. 

Council planning chair Cr Nicholas Reece agreed that the building was in desperate need of restoration. 

“I think Michael O’Brien was right when he said Job Warehouse is probably the most high-profile eyesore in Melbourne,” he said.

Cr Reece said that while there were “a large number of positive dimensions” to the proposal, the number of objectors — which exceeded 100 to both the initial and amended proposal — represented a “significant community campaign of opposition”.

He said the community was united in hopes for a refurbished Job Warehouse building, but it was also incumbent on the councillors to protect the livelihoods of long-term residents.

“This is a really difficult application,” he said.

“It’s one of those balancing acts where on the one hand, the city is very, very keen to see a vibrant nighttime economy and is very, very keen to see investment in its nighttime economy and that’s what the O’Briens are offering. On the other hand, I think concerns that have been raised by large numbers of residents are very legitimate as well. It is notable to me that the apartment buildings on Liverpool [St] Lane are not new — they have been there for 30-plus years, and many of the residents have lived along the laneway for 30 years, or certainly well over a decade.”

Cr Reece said this distinguished this case from others within the CBD, but he has left the door open to extending the license for specific evenings throughout the year.

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