Moderator Reverend Sharon Hollis showed she was a dab hand with a shovel as she took part in Thursday morning’s sod-turning ceremony at the Wesley Place redevelopment of the Wesley Uniting Church site on Lonsdale St in Melbourne.
The Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Councillor Robert Doyle, donned the hi-vis gear and white safety helmet along with representatives from site developer Charter Hall and builder Lendlease to take part in the speeches and spadework that officially launched the construction phase of the new project.
Work has already commenced on the foundations of the 35-level premium office tower, which will share the site with the historic Wesley Church, manse, schoolhouse and caretaker’s cottage buildings.
The aim of the redevelopment, which also preserves a heritage-listed olive tree, will be to create an office precinct that boasts retail, dining and community areas and generous green space.
In her address at the sod-turning ceremony, Ms Hollis said that when the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania first envisaged such a project, it saw an opportunity to reinvigorate the area around Wesley Church.
“Today marks an important milestone in the realisation of that vision, and our aim of seeing a restored and reinvigorated Wesley Church establish its presence as a centre of Christian worship and witness within a thriving gathering of professional, artistic, educational and social pursuits,’’ Ms Hollis said.
Ms Hollis noted that the project, through an innovative 125-year investment fund conducted in partnership with Charter Hall, would ensure the future of Wesley Church and its associated buildings, which represent the earliest intact neo-Gothic church complex in Victoria.
However, she said a more important heritage than the physical buildings was Wesley Church’s 150-year history of being a place of Christian worship and mission to the poor and needy of the area. .
Ms Hollis noted that Uniting, the community services arm of the church, will return to a “spiritual home” where predecessor agency Wesley Mission Victoria commenced.
Uniting is one of the tenants of the new office tower, along with synod operations.
TelstraSuper, Australia’s largest corporate superannuation fund, and Cbus Super, one of Australia’s largest super funds, will also establish their head offices at the address.
Charter Hall representative Andrew Borger thanked synod staff who had been part of the 30-year planning road to the sod-turning milestone, and acknowledged the commitment of Wesley Church minister Rev Alistair Macrae, who was not able to attend during speeches but came later.
Mr Borger said he had known Mr Macrae was a good bloke from their first meeting about the project, when the former UCA president and synod moderator rushed to wrap things up so he could look at his phone and check the one-day cricket score.
The Wesley Place development is expected to be completed in mid 2020.