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Blogs by Alan West


The Espy


Janaury 9th. 2018

The Espy opened for trading in 1878 and has proudly sat on that elevated bayside corner, a St Kilda landmark, a cultural icon ever since.
She has gone through many changes over the last 140 years. The most dramatic being a whole complete front ground floor addition of the big bay window, front stairs and bar to the side.

In the mid 1980s, songwriter Mike Brady's consortium bought the block, bounded by the Esplande, Pollington and Victoria Streets, wanting to develop an 18-storey tower behind the pub. As a result of a huge community outcry and the hard fought campaign by Save St Kilda, steered by Kate Shaw, the council imposed a six-storey height limit on the site. This knocked Mike’s dream on the head. Next in line, Carlton and United Breweries purchased the site in 1995 from the Brady bunch.

On August 1997, the Becton Corporation purchased the whole block, with big plans for redevelopment including a 38 storey apartment tower.
From 1997 to 2003 the Espy was in mortal danger of being demolished by Becton. The long drawn out battle with the Esplanade Alliance eventually saw a local victory and a special planning amendment passed by CoPP, that enshrined a ‘cultural use’ for the Espy and safety from the bulldozers. The 38 storey monstrosity was reduced to the current 10 story development, that awkwardly sits behind the Espy as we see it today.

In 2001 Becton put out to tender the lease for just the Espy Hotel . The Lewis/Comey/Esplanade Alliance bid was pipped by former nightclub operators Paul Adamo and Vince Sofo (previous Chevron nightclub owners). They attempted to sell the lease in early 2014, but did not receive a suitable offer. They closed the hotel suddenly on Sunday 17 May 2015 and it has remained closed since, with the Gershwin room used occasionally for special gigs.
Renovations commenced, progressing extremely slowly until coming to a complete halt.

Around mid 2017 the Espy lease was sold yet again, to (privately owned) Melbourne based hospitality group Sand Hill Road, who have extensive experience operating hotels since 2000.
This time the Espy's fortunes have changed hopefully for the better, with a new lease of life.

Sand Hill Road have kept the plans close to their chest, but include building a large beer garden with lots of glass near the entrance. A circular stage in the front bar near the stairs leading to the first floor, and a host of other rumoured changes. I visited the premises a couple of months ago. Except for the Gershwin room the rest of the place was totally gutted, ready for renovation. Thankfully the inane, half completed remodelling of the the front bar ceiling started by the previous owners, is to be removed. The bay window had the top third obstructed by the construction to support the planned 1st floor terrace. It will be removed by the current operators and the front bar brought back to original ceiling height. I have confidence the current group will make good for the Espy and she has been saved just in the nick of time. That 1st floor terrace design was totally insensitive.

The new works are due to be completed on schedule, and a planned re-opening well before xmas 2018 is on the cards.

The old saying about the Espy was that in the last 3 decades or so, the faces changed but the clothes remained the same. The old days of most patrons wearing black because they could extend clothes washing times has passed. The Espy having gone through the old Jazz, Swing, Pub Rock and Roll eras looks like now coming out on the gentrified side.

Hopefully there will be enough of the old girl's spirit left that we can go in and order a drink. Stare out the bay window, get all nostalgic with a lump in our throat.
Wash it down with a bevie and realise it is now time for us baby boomers to pass her on, like she was passed on to us by the prior crew of Espy characters.

Long may she stand, and I'll be one of the first to hit the bar and raise a toast………

to the Espy !


Happy New Year
Alan West


The St Kilda Triangle update, an important and divisive issue.

November 16th. 2017

Over the last decade there have been 3 major St Kilda Triangle vision plans drawn up for Council consideration.
Citta Masterplan 2007 (Red document).
St Kilda Triangle 2012 (Orange document).
Masterplan 2016 (Purple document).
Referring to these documents by colour, avoids unneccessary complication.

The Red document in 2007 actually formed into an agreement with CoPP and a contract with Citta was signed for redevelopment of the Triangle.
This was the plan that upset many locals due to the designed massive overbuild and destruction of the Grassy slopes located between The Esplanade and Lower Esplanade.
Rallies, protests and marches were organised. 2,000 people came to a council meeting to display their opposition. Tensions ran high.
The campaign is well remembered, as the "Triangle Wars."

As a result, the council at the time was unceremoniously dumped in the 2008 elections. The new council paid out Citta with $5Mill of rate payers’ money, to unwind the Triangle contract, along with Citta being granted a sweet Palais management contract for 5 years, as final settlement for the whole unwinding of the deal. The Global Financial crisis was also afoot at this time, and some believe this, beyond other considerations, killed the project. Allowing Citta an easy way out by accepting the pay out and walking away from the initial contract.

Following all this kafuffle, and after things had settled down somewhat, in 2012 the Orange document was drawn up. Compiled from an extensive consultation process, directly engaging a broad spectrum of over 900 people.
It put forward a minimal build, with defined maximum heights, and was the result of the public’s outright rejection of the Red document’s overbuild, and planned destruction of the Grassy slopes.

We now come to the Purple document.
It mysteriously appeared around 2015 and was managed and steered by some members of the 2012-16 council, to supplant the Orange document.

In 2016 this succeeded and the Purple document was ratified by council.

Some concerns surrounding the Purple document are that it returns to the overbuild inherent in the old Red document and also threatens to attack the Grassy slopes once again with concrete.
Incredulously, this new Purple document uses the same architects (ARM Architecture) as in the Red document, a plan that was clearly rejected by the broader community in 2008.
One wonders at this coincidence, and in architecture circles, the Purple document is known and spoken of, as the ARM Masterplan.
The direct consultation of only 400 odd people was less than half the 900 consulted in the Orange document.
There have been lingering suspicions that those invited to consult were filtered with a weighting towards developers, architects and industry types.
The Purple plan also includes a scalable approach, where maximum heights are not set, and open to "the requirements of future users and tenants". The eventual building behind the Palais will surely magically "scalable" itself way above the Palais' highest point, swamping it. Other smaller buildings on site also will climb up to the highest stretchable reach. Making view line studies redundant. All courtesy of the magic potion "scalability", which means "the capacity to be changed in size or scale". Developer translation - means as big as possible, and then just a little more, both vertically and horizontally.

This Purple document is not as kosher as some would have you believe. There is doubt over the process being a broad spectrum consultation, and the scalability issue is wide open to abuse.
On close inspection, this Purple document looks more like a return to the old infamous Red document, than some inspired visionary masterpiece.

Luckily there is no Council budget allocated this financial year for Triangle planning. Over the last 20 years, $20 Mill of our ratepayer money has been loosely spent on grand visions with architects, planners and consultants reaping a good little earner.

A few weeks ago an amendment to a motion passed in council put a halt to Triangle planning, including background work, for 2 years.
That must have irked some of the behind the scenes, Purple document steering people, but there is no rush.
The Triangle can earn $1,25 Mill a year just operating as a car park, with some winter activation when parking demands are low, and earn back some of the $20 Mill squandered on the professional visionaries.

Who knows, a Triangle vision may be born through people frequenting winter activation events.

I have a firm belief that the Grassy Slopes define the Esplanade promenade. If they remain untouched, and well kept, their beauty will last for millennia. Within decades vistas as such in major cities will be lost or crowded out with concrete. The slopes and views will become a rarity and a tourist attraction in itself. This natural formation is in no need of interference from contemporary planning fashion makeovers.

A thousand years from now, the Grassy Slopes will be just as beautiful as they are today, even more so. Pseudo self-elevating visionary "but I am a creative" intervention not required.

*Orange document -
*Purple document -

Happy Summer
Alan West



Happy 1st. Birthday Council

October 12th 2017

The new Council is now approaching one year old. Just growing out of the crawling stage, standing on two feet and starting to walk right up to issues such as Australia Day, the Carlisle St drinking problem, plastic bags, marriage equality. Council is and should be more than just R, R & R. Rates, roads & rubbish. Being involved in moral and ethic issues, and advocating for and on behalf of residents is for the betterment of us all.

With regards to Australia Day, I do not want to attempt to speak for first peoples, but for myself. I am a 4th. Generation Australian, with British ancestry on both sides. In the way my ancestors colonized this land, I am both embarrassed and concerned. Australia Day should not be celebrated on the day that Cook landed and declared Terra Nullius. On June 3rd.1992, the High Court of Australia decided that terra nullius should not have been applied to Australia, (Mabo case). Maybe that day is a day to celebrate as Australia Day, definitely not 26th. of January.

Back to our Council. A current audit is being conducted of local buildings and spaces of local significance not covered by heritage protection. This has just begun. There seems to be a bias towards old pubs, but hopefully they will also include some of the beautiful old buildings which CoPP has yet to place on the Heritage overlay register.

I am glad problems are now being tackled front on. I have faith in this council's moral bone fides. Which should hold them in good stead for resolutions in alignment with residents needs and wants.

Who, lets not forget, voted them in to represent us in the first place.

There seems to be a growing, humanising culture developing in this new council.
Personally it feels like it is emanating through the Mayor's office, a couple of Greens and another councillor or two, assuaging the whole complex into slightly less defensive positioning and a willingness to listen. Maybe the message got through from the conflict and turmoil last year, which surrounded the PTV tram works in Fitzroy and Acland St, and the Palais Theatre kafuffle. Both of which were not handled that well at all by the prior council.

I am not a council apologist, and local government cannot please everybody, but there sure has been a massive change.
The new structure, where we have 3 councillors per ward (rather than 1) has increased consultation amongst themselves, with residents and businesses, and the council as a whole.

With this, things can only improve. I dream for a proactive council.

Happy 1st. Birthday Council

Alan West



CoPP that, happy anniversary.

September 7th 2017

The first anniversary of our new city council is close at hand.
Last October, we voted in a pastiche serving of some new, some incumbent, and some Lazarath soufflés with greens on the side.
I must say what a pleasant result it was, being unchained from the prior, somewhat troubled council.

Readjusting to three wards with nine councillors has been handled well. Three councillors per ward instead of only one, certainly injects diversity and more consultation.
The presence of 3 Green councillors is welcomed and has certainly brought in a more environmentally weighted influence.
Personally, I would have also loved to see one or two full blown "card carrying" social democrats voted onto Council.
I find their basic tenet "people and planet before profit" refreshing and quite an attractive ballast to keep democracy afloat.
Council meetings would have been more entertaining with the pot being stirred more often and social democratic attitudes added to the brew.
Over the river in Yarra & Maribyrnong the socialist councillors certainly are proactive, at times creating robust and fiery council meetings.

I know a majority of our councillors well, and they are hard working and tackle their duties responsibly.
With all due respect, overall our current council seems to be lacking fire in the belly. They seem more motivated towards putting out small fires. A reactive, rather than proactive posture.

In fairness, it would be remiss not to mention some of the council achievements in its first year.
e.g. Live streaming Council meetings, The Gay Pride Centre, Gatwick resident relocation taskforce, reducing winter parking fees in Pt Melbourne, St Kilda and Elwood, Acland St Mall activation, completion of Palais refurbishment, Gasworks theatre upgrade, facilitating the Seabaths VCAT win, and the most laborious - completing the Council Plan (integrated for the first time with the budget ).
Also their advocacy work - Fishermans bend, ban on plastic bags, marriage equality, emissions reductions and possibly Australia Day celebration considerations.

Meanwhile there are burning local issues to be tackled.

This council is slated to take us into the next decade. What will Port Phillip look like in 2020 ? Downtown Docklands, interspersed with a Chadstone by the sea and a Gold Coast urbanscape. Another Box Hill by the bay ?
Hopefully we remember past lessons learnt and don't become totally ravaged by the incessant invading hordes of greedy developers. It would be marvellous to see a few councillors actually become proactive, to stand up and make some noise about protecting our municipality

Every time I look around Port Phillip, I see another piece of blue sky lost, a bit of beach taken over. Another new backpacker bar. A Bauhaus box erected on the rubble of a lovely old building.
Go down to the Library at the Docklands, any day or night and walk around the neighbourhood for an hour. Do we want that to happen to us in Port Phillip ?

Happy Equinox

Alan West




Who does the pot of gold belong to ?

August 7th 2017

The Seabaths has been sitting on public land in one form or another for the last 157 years.
A hearing was scheduled at VCAT for the end of August. The operators applying to take over half the public space on the rooftop, build on it and have a liquor license for 300 people.

July ended with the operators of the Seabaths unable to produce a signed Coastal Consent notice as promised. This caused a cascading event. CoPP denied the application and the VCAT hearing became invalid.
A win for locals who faced the loss of public space, with no reciprocal public amenity offered that out weighed this loss.

As a result of local activism to save the rooftop, a few anomalies in the planning and decision making process around Seabaths applications were unearthed, including the confusion about coastal consent mentioned above.

Another is the current application for the Seabaths 543/2017:
"Buildings and works comprising construction of two roofed external bar structures/alcohol service areas (ground courtyard and mezzanine "deck" levels) in association with existing licensed areas for Republica and Captain Baxter tenancies (retrospective)".

Note this is retrospective, and involves yet again public space (the courtyard) ie. the two bars have already been built prior to obtaining a building permit.
Normally if you built a chook shed in your backyard without a permit, the council would make you tear it down.

It seems this does not apply to businesses on the foreshore, even when public space is involved. A rule for us and a rule for them.

I am also concerned with the culture of loose council lease arrangements on the foreshore and environs.
Agreements are signed and then neatly filed away, gathering cobwebs and dust. At times misplaced or completely lost. Sometimes only conducted with a nod of the head.
Meanwhile council officers move on, gaining employment elsewhere, new ones take their place. Agreements become forgotten or malleable over time, aided by insufficient governance/compliance.
This allows an easy pathway for lessees to conveniently forget obligations agreed to as part of their negotiations to influence rent and concessions sought.

One of the worst situations is the West Coast Pavillion (again on public land) paying the princely sum of $1 per year rent for the complete building.
Another, the Metropol reneging on a lease agreement, (using safety as a pretext) to close the public toilets to the public, but coincidentally safe enough to allow the bar on the otherside access and use.
I assure you there are others, the mind boggles.

Happy Spring

Alan West


Seabaths Timeline