Arts plan set to draw new residents into city

LONDON: A new arts precinct is to be used to draw multigenerational housing residents back to the CDRC of the city.

Property mogul Randal Humich has revealed details of his $160 million plan to revive Perth’s artistic soul.

Mr Humich’s Southern Cross Properties last year paid $42 million for the 3300sqm block of shops between the Hay and Murray street malls, including the Barrack Street retail strip, after two years of negotiation with 55 owners.

Walking through the derelict upper-floor level this week, Mr Humich said it was key to helping revive the city as an arts and culture hub.

The 132-year old second-floor level, built in the Gold Rush but dormant for decades, was once home to many artistic endeavours including a theatre, a photography studio and a gallery.

Mr Humich plans to renovate and reopen the 450-seat Liberty Theatre, which operated from 1954 to 1997, as a cinema.

He is negotiating with the University of WA to run its music program onsite for free lunchtime concerts. At other times it will host everything from jazz to opera.

He plans to install artistic groups from the visual and performing arts sectors into the adjoining second-floor offices, co-working spaces and rehearsal studios.

Below-market rents would help attract the struggling groups, many of which operate out of lounge rooms with skeleton staff.

The vision for an artistic hub is already forming, with the WA Academy of Performing Arts recently moving in to one of his Hay Street Mall shops, previously occupied by Valley Girl.

A basement-level art gallery within the complex has also been revived for occasional use for artistic groups, with plans to refurbish it for more regular use.

Also in the works is a Liberty Theatre bar, facing Barrack Street, and an activated laneway off Murray Street Mall, called Conor Lane, lined with retail stores.

It will anchor a modern, 18-storey office block, with 52 car bays over four basement levels.

“It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to activate a central part of Perth,” Mr Humich said. “It is a model that could be picked up and used anywhere in the city.”

Mr Humich has already had success with another city revitalisation project, after facilitating a new office in disused storerooms above Kmart.

It is home to Hames Sharley, the architecture firm behind his new vision.

He said the new plan would not have been possible under the fragmented ownership of the past.

“Many people have a financial interest in Perth, but they don’t have an interest in Perth,” he said. “If it don’t get a quick financial return, they won’t do it.”

But will the upcoming hub cannibalise earlier plans involving the Piccadilly Arcade theatre, only a few hundred metres away in the CBD, or the Rechabite in Northbridge? Mr Humich says not, given the varying sizes and locations could attract different performances and clientele.

The plans will be considered by the City of Perth Local Development Assessment Panel in August, but first he needs to overcome a hurdle with the Department of Transport.

Mr Humich said it had imposed a limit of 40 car bays on an “outdated policy, not a law”. He wants an extra 12 car bays, which may require ministerial intervention.

Perth Lord Mayor Basil Zempilas called the project “transformational”.

“It will breathe life back into a part of our city, which in recent times has been unloved and almost neglected,” Mr Zempilas said.

“It’s another shot in the arm for Perth’s artistic soul. When the Humich vision becomes a reality, music, dance and visual art will echo through Barrack Street and help bring our city back to life.”