BY PAUL PAECH
It was clear to everyone – except Waverley’s colourful Mayor Sally Betts – that the $38 million proposal to transform Bondi Pavilion into a sleek commercial operation was a dud.
So when the NSW Government finally stopped its deeply unpopular compulsory amalgamation of councils, local electors had their chance to create the Pavilion they wanted.
Six months on from the election, it’s useful to examine what’s going to happen next.
The first thing to appreciate is that big changes will not likely happen quickly, for the simple reason that the Pav is one of Australia’s most highly valued – and thus tightly protected – heritage buildings.
Ironically, this same protection helped stop Betts’ contentious up-grade.
When the Heritage Council looked at those plans, it discovered that Council’s project manager had ignored its obligation to base the proposal on a heritage conservation analysis of the Bondi Park & Beach area.
Without a comprehensive study, the Heritage Council immediately halted assessment while Council scampered around to prepare one.
Such had been the pressure from Council to get this proposal approved that the project’s highly respected heritage architects, Tonkin Zulaikha Greer (TZG), hadn’t spotted the mistake. Whoops!
Once Betts was out of the driving seat, the incoming Council wasted no time in delivering on its promise to look after this iconic building.
Just days after the election, Bondi ward Councillor John Wakefield moved to set up a community stakeholder committee to help steer Council’s priorities for the Pavilion, and a motion at the very first meeting of the new ALP/Greens Council established the committee’s terms of reference.
Over the next few months, the Committee, which included both the current and former local Liberal Councillors, met and thrashed out the community’s priorities for the building, eventually agreeing (almost always unanimously) on the way forward.
At last week’s Council meeting the committee’s comprehensive report was presented and received, without amendment. (Find it at www.bit.ly/2EVm1JA.)
Council’s 2014-2024 Plan of Management for Bondi Beach, Park and Pavilion requires Council to create a “vibrant mix of community, cultural and commercial activities” in the Pav, and this more balanced triple-play will now play out more evenly.
Thus, instead of expanded bars and up-market restaurant facilities, the revised plan allows valuable (though not profit-generating) community groups like Bondi’s local Alcohol Anonymous to continue to use the Pav.
The Committee’s report suggests additional new community/cultural space opposite the High Tide room. The adjacent music studios, the potters’ studio and the artist-in-residence facility will continue as before, although the last two may move location within the Pav.
The configuration and location of the upstairs theatre, which would have been replaced by a high-end function centre/restaurant/bar, will benefit from a major upgrade, and better use will be made of backstage/green room areas.
The northern and southern courtyards will be upgraded for festivals and other cultural/community uses, while the outdoor amphitheatre will probably stay.
Revitalising the crucial atrium/foyer is a key focus of the report, including the possibility of opening up access to the two courtyards through existing corridors leading off the atrium, which is currently blocked off.
The beach-front ground-floor businesses are likely to continue, but the offices and other areas to the west will make way for more visitor-friendly uses, including space for telling the Bondi Story, something which is required under the heritage framework.
Council will examine the future of the Bucket List addition.
Although an unsympathetic addition, there is an argument that the vibrant social scene there is of cultural value, and that the extension could be retained, at least short-term. Certainly, the revenue generated there is valued by Council.
The committee addressed the contentious issue of toilets. One major outcome is that there are likely to be a number of extra new toilet, shower and change facilities both along the promenade and at other places in the park. The area between the Pav and the Surf Club is a further possible location.
What are the next steps? The committee’s report will underpin the brief to TZG, who will be given a second bite at the job, hopefully with more understanding of the building’s uses. With consultation, refinements, and tendering, we’re unlikely to see major works begin until winter 2019.
While major plans are developed, Council will carry out essential maintenance work to roofs etc. Some improvements, the first in many years, will begin sooner, among them the removal of the foyer planter-box to create a more welcoming zone, for which Council is already seeking Heritage Council dispensation.
If 2019 seems like a long way away, remember that the key dictum for heritage buildings is to do as much as necessary to care for the place and to make it useable, but otherwise change it as little as possible so that its cultural significance is retained.
A pity that the former Council ignored that.
SIGN OF THE TIMES
After 20 years, a cultural centre of a somewhat different kind, Bondi’s Civic Video in Curlewis Street, has announced its imminent closure, with owner John Price citing piracy as the main culprit, though commercial streaming (NetFlix, Stan, iTunes, etc.) has also impacted.
The excitement there on Friday and Saturday nights was palpable, as locals and visitors hustled to get their hands on latest releases or limited copies of foreign and other specialist DVDs.
Get along over the next few weeks to say goodbye to an era, and be sure to grab one or two or more of the more than 25,000 discs to add to your own library.