Hope has risen that Melbourne’s heritage Windsor Hotel, located opposite Victoria’s Parliament House at “the Paris end of Collins Street”, may be saved from impending closure.In a positive development following our story last week, Australia’s grandest hotel set to close after 130 years, the hotel’s owner Adi Halim met Victoria’s Planning Minister Richard Wynne. Halim is hotel director of the Halim Group, which owns the Hotel Windsor.
Speaking after the meeting, Halim said: “Both parties discussed all aspects of the development and agreed to work together to try to save the Windsor. Further meetings have been arranged to see what can be done.”
Before the latest positive development, Halim issued a statement explaining his side of the story.
Here is an edited version of Adi Halim’s statement, below:
Planning Minister Richard Wynne says my family company, which owns the Hotel Windsor, should do the right thing and get on with the $330 million redevelopment to save the historic hotel.
We would be delighted to do so…if only Mr Wynne would give us a permit which allowed it.
The problem is that the permit expires in January 2017, which only leaves 18 months for a 36-month project. That is why we applied for an extension of the permit to September 2018, the date set by three other necessary permits, the ones issued by Heritage Victoria. Unlike the Government, Heritage Victoria always understood the time-consuming complexities of a major heritage project.
Government insiders are giving us a wink and a nod, telling us they have never had a case where a permit had not been extended when a project is in mid-stream. Just do it, they say.
Well, I’m sorry, but the game has changed since the East-West Tunnel affair when both sides of politics astonished overseas local and overseas investors who may be considering politically sensitive projects in Victoria.
In the wake of East West, my bankers have told me I would be crazy to sign construction projects worth $200 million when I knew that my permit did not allow time to complete it. The builders agree. So does my entire project team. And so do my lawyers.
For five decades, successive owners of the Windsor have been trying to find a way to ensure the long-term future of Australia’s last 19th century grand hotel. We thought we had found a way. It received support and commendations from Tourism Victoria, Destination Melbourne, Melbourne City Council, former Premier John Brumby and Heritage Victoria. It passed the test of the independent planning advisory panel, which concluded that it was a well-considered proposal to go beyond recommended height levels (not height limits) in order to safeguard the future of the hotel.
Denton Corker Marshall developed an elegant solution with a 27-storey tower only 10.5 metres wide. It was set back 25 metres from Spring Street and Bourke Street. No other tower in the CBD is set back so far.
The Windsor plans included the best of everything, the kind of hotel offered in only a few cities of the world while being unique to Melbourne. It would have created thousands of jobs and substantial new tourism revenue from discerning travellers.
The Windsor plans survived an appeal to VCAT and a subsequent appeal to the Supreme Court before we started the long process of obtaining a heritage permit before we could proceed. But politics had intervened when a leaked media unit memorandum described how the ALP Government would conduct a sham community consultation process to block the project.
The Labor scandal emboldened then Opposition Planning spokesman Matthew Guy to make political capital by opposing everything to do with the Windsor. This was after his colleague, Major Works spokesman Richard Della Riva, had welcomed the project effusively in a speech to the Legislative Council. In Government, Guy changed the rules to make the area’s height guidelines mandatory rather than discretionary.
The Windsor is crumbling, ready to fall down. Two weeks ago, diners and guests were sent home and to other hotels when an old steam pipe burst the heating system failed at the south end of the hotel. Two of the guests were celebrating their wedding night. There are constant leaks and other problems that can’t be fixed without a complete refurbishment.
I will not allow guests of the Windsor to be uncomfortable or unsafe. That is why the Windsor cannot survive for too much longer as a five-star hotel. The hotel is not generating the revenue to fund the kind of repairs it will need in the coming years. That is why it needs a rebirth, not another patch-up.
The old Duchess of Spring Street is being held together by band-aids when it needs a heart transplant. It was going to be a world-class hotel that Melbourne could be proud of. It was going to follow the path of great hotels of the same era – the Savoy in London, the Ritz in Paris, Raffles in Singapore and the Waldorf in New York – which have all had modern makeovers while preserving the heritage values.
My colleagues in the local and offshore Asia business communities and the international hotel business are bewildered by what politics has done to this unique hotel.
But perhaps they would not be so surprised if they knew the history of the hotel. The Windsor was only a few years old when it became controlled by one of Melbourne’s most notorious political operators, James Munro. He used it to promote his political views on temperance by burning its licence and turning it into a coffee palace. Within two years, the hotel was nearly broke and the hotel had to be rescued (by David Syme, among others) and its licence and hotel operations restored.
Written by Adi Halim, hotel director of the Halim Group, owner of the Hotel Windsor