An exciting step that assures Wesley Church’s future as a place of worship and community gathering was announced yesterday. Planning Minister Richard Wynne approved an application for redevelopment of the historic Lonsdale Street site where the church was built more than 150 years ago.
The approval is significant because it allows an innovative sinking fund for the preservation and maintenance of the church into the next century and beyond.
Wesley Church, Manse, Schoolhouse and Caretaker’s Cottage represent the earliest intact neo-Gothic church complex in Victoria. The planning approval safeguards the longevity of these buildings which have the highest significant heritage value on the site. A unique transaction with the developer means the site will not be sold. It will be leased from the Uniting Church for 125 years, ensuring the church’s future as a place of worship and community gathering for perpetuity.
“This is an exciting and important step for the Uniting Church. It allows us to preserve a significant part of our city’s heritage for all Melburnians and to provide a community space that everyone can enjoy within a sustainably sensitive commercial precinct,” Rev Dr Mark Lawrence, General Secretary, Victorian and Tasmanian Synod, said.
“I commend the hard work that so many have dedicated to achieve this outcome. I particularly want to thank the Victorian State Government, Heritage Victoria and the City of Melbourne for recognising that we are committed to creating a precinct relevant to today’s world.”
Part of the redevelopment involves the removal of the Princess Mary Club, a concrete building constructed in the late 1920s.
The Princess Mary Club is classified as having contributory significance to the site, unlike the other buildings on the site (Wesley Church, Manse, Schoolhouse and Caretaker’s Cottage) which are classified as buildings of the highest heritage significance. Wesley Church complex, built in 1857-59 was designed by Joseph Reed. The church is an early example of Gothic Revival styling with a gallery on all sides of a cruciform floor plan. Its spire is believed to be the oldest surviving and first spire built in Victoria. The sinking fund assures the church will be utilised for generations to come.
The redevelopment also preserves an olive tree, believed to be the oldest imported tree in Victoria, which will become the focal point of a new green urban sanctuary and tower square.
The minister at Wesley Church, Rev Alistair Macrae, believes the legacy of the Princess Mary Club continues as the church and its associated welfare agencies adapt to the changing needs of women in the 21st century.
“Times have changed and the needs of women have changed, so the legacy of that building has continued in the work of Wesley Mission Victoria which will have new offices in the commercial precinct of the redeveloped site,” Mr Macrae said.
The Uniting Church Synod of Victoria and Tasmania has also announced a new partnership for the construction and leasing stage of the approved redevelopment, which comprises office space across 33 floors, a dynamic town square and a number of courtyard and garden spaces.
Following an intensive due diligence process, the Synod has completed a partnership agreement with Charter Hall property group. Charter Hall is one of Australia’s leading property groups with a highly skilled and motivated team managing over 270 commercial properties around Australia. The organisation has a strong commitment to long-term partnerships and a clear understanding of the Uniting Church ethos in relation to the Wesley Place project.
“We are delighted with the passion and enthusiasm of the team from Charter Hall,” Dr Lawrence said. “Charter Hall’s portfolio of work is outstanding and they understand the values of our Church and the importance we place on this development remaining a place of worship, service and community as well as a bustling business centre for the people of Melbourne.”
Victorian Government website approval announcement.